FBI hunt molester in PMB

2008-11-27 00:00

AMERICAN and South African law enforcers are hot on the heels of a suspected serial child rapist, a South African national who is believed to be hiding in Pietermaritzburg.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wants him extradited to the United States to face charges of sexually molesting two young girls for a period of about five years.

Graham Harding (39) left America late last year, and is believed to be in Pietermaritzburg, where he was born and raised. Authorities have not ruled out the possibility that he might also be in Durban, where he has relatives.

International policing agency Interpol confirmed that Harding is on its list of international fugitives.

“Interpol received a warrant [of arrest] in June. He arrived in the country from America in December last year. We are still gathering more information with regard to the matter,” said a source close to Interpol.

A relative of Harding’s, who lives in Florida in the U.S., told The Witness he left the country a few days before the warrant for his arrest was issued.

The Witness learnt that Harding molested the children, who are sisters, when they were younger than 11 in Florida and Arizona from 2003 until he fled the country.

A family member who cannot be identified said Harding initially denied the allegations.

“He cried and tried to commit suicide, but still insisted that the victims were lying. Had his suicide attempt succeeded, he would have gone leaving behind the impression that the girls were not telling the truth,” said the family member, who added that one of the girls, who is now 16, attempted suicide as a result of the trauma.

A family friend told The Witness that Harding later confessed to the crimes before his lawyer and ex-wife and then promised to hand himself over to the police.

He fled before doing so after his lawyer told him that he could be sentenced to life imprisonment if found guilty, said the family friend.

The family member said she has established that one of the reasons Harding’s arrest is delayed is because of complications in South Africa’s extradition treaty with the U.S.

“With this case still hanging it makes it hard for me to move on with my life. I think the world should be united against perpetrators of these types of crimes,” said the family member.

When contacted about the case, Interpol spokeswoman Senior Superintendent Tumi Golding could only say that Interpol is aware that Harding’s name was circulated by the FBI.

She declined to explain why he is still at large.

Harding, who was married about 10 years ago but divorced following the allegations, is a former student of the University of Natal’s Pietermaritzburg campus. He served in the SA Defence Force, and moved to America in 1998.

He was also a prominent member of the Pietermaritzburg Parachute Club and of the South African national skydiving team.

He later became part of the U.S. national skydiving team, which won a gold medal at the 2004 World Parachuting Championship in Croatia.

Parachuter Steve Bartels said he first met Harding in 1988. He said he was “shocked and devastated by Harding’s monstrous acts”.

“It is even embarrassing that I was once associated with him. I hope his conscience strikes him to go back to face his charges. If you do crime you do the time,” said Bartels.

Interpol has requested anyone who knows Harding’s whereabouts to contact its standby members at 082 778 3641.

bhans@witness.co.za

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