By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
Last week, Kamal, a French pearl dealer, received a highly unusual granting of political asylum from a Los Angeles judge who slammed French officials for persecuting the man and his family. Kamal claimed prominent French judges and police brass trapped his daughter in a child-sex scheme and are now out to get him for exposing their pedophile racket.
It was a claim Judge Ronald N. Ohata found credible. "The French government's persecution has strong elements of personal revenge and vendetta, Mr. Kamal having complained about the corruption of the government and having been sued and persecuted following this complaint," Ohata stated. "It is pure abuse of power from individuals who are in control, and who are connected, against people who they feel are not."
The U.S. rarely grants political asylum to someone from a friendly nation. It's hard enough for people who have a well-grounded fear of repressive regimes in their home countries. France has a lengthy tradition of respect for human rights, but that hasn't been enough to stave off a public furor. The French press has gone bananas over the case, with headlines screaming "Save Lauriane."
The case itself is byzantine. During a rancorous divorce proceeding in 1993, Kamal charged that his wife, Guyot, had caused Lauriane, then five, to be abused by prominent Nice pedophiles, including judges and other local political bigwigs. The judge assigned to the case in Nice threw it out. Kamal said that was no coincidence, since he claimed the judge himself was a member of the ring.
Later, child psychologists in the U.S. examined Lauriane and reported that indeed she had been sexually abused.
Claiming the French judges were out to get him, in 1994 Kamal took the little girl and fled to California where his sister, Dalila Kamal-Griffin, an L.A. attorney, launched court actions to protect both her brother and the girl by seeking political asylum for them in the U.S.
Two months later, the plot took a twist. French officials, accompanied by two Santa Monica detectives, appeared unannounced and without warrants at Kamal's home, seized the child, and headed for the airport to take her back to France. At this point, the FBI stepped in and ordered the kid off the plane. But the French didn't give up so easily, shunting Lauriane from the U.S. to Mexico and back to France, where she lives with her mom in Nice. The French government says Kamalwho was convicted in absentia for abduction and malicious prosecutionis lying and that the daughter should have been sent home to begin with. U.S. Immigration officials agree. Guyot, the former wife, accuses Kamal of failing to pay child support and denies the pedophile charges.
For Kamal's supporters, the removal of Lauriane to France was clearly wrong. "Can you imagine for a second, what the U.S. and world reaction would have been if Elián González has been kidnapped by the Castro regime with the help of the Miami police instead of going through the courts?" asks his sister. She has founded a Web site, for the cause of missing and exploited children.
Race may also be a factor. Judge Ohata also agreed with Kamal's suspicion that he was a victim of discrimination because he is of Moroccan descent. "In this case you have a family that is being persecuted," Ohata declared, "and it is an Arab family. And it is a family that has become whistle-blowers."