ROME (AFP) - An Italian policeman who posed as an amiable host on the Couchsurfing website has been charged with drugging and raping a 16-year-old Australian and may have sexually assaulted up to 15 other women, judicial sources said Friday.
Dino Maglio, 35, will go on trial in Padua near Venice from March 17 on charges of raping a minor with the aggravating circumstance of having administered a narcotic without her knowledge, prosecutors in the northern city said.
The case is set to reignite safety concerns surrounding Couchsurfing, a social networking site that puts travellers in touch with hosts who are willing to put them up and show them around their hometowns for free.
The site’s declared aim is “a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection”.
But its model has been criticised because of previous incidents of travellers being attacked by hosts they know nothing about.
Prosecutors investigating the case of the Australian 16-year-old are also now considering possible further charges arising from a suspected attack after Maglio was first charged.
They are also looking at statements about similar incidents made by 14 women from seven countries to the Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI).
The network of freelance reporters, which began looking into Maglio’s activities after being approached by one of the women who says she was assaulted by him, handed an extensive dossier to prosecutors last month.
“Three of the women – all Czech nationals – have so far filed rape charges and we are looking at the evidence presented by the other women,” a judicial source told AFP.
An American student, who also says she was raped, made a statement to police in London following her return to the UK, where she was resident.
POWERFUL DATE-RAPE DRUG
The women interviewed by IRPI include nationals of Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Poland and Portugal.
All recounted similar tales of how “Leonardo", as Maglio presented himself on the site, initially seemed to be a charming and remarkably generous host.
Soon, however, he became overbearing and inexplicably insistent that they should drink tea or his “special wine” with him.
None of them, however, felt themselves particularly in danger because they were all travelling with other people.
The alleged rape of the Australian girl occurred in March 2014.
She is understood to have stayed up chatting to Maglio while her mother and younger sister, who were also staying at his apartment, went to bed.
The mother told police she did not believe there was any reason for concern as Maglio was himself a police officer.
When she woke in the morning, the mother discovered her daughter in Maglio’s bed without her underwear and in an extremely lethargic state.
Arrested after the family filed charges in Venice, Maglio admitted having spiked the girl’s drink and to having sexual intercourse with her while knowing she was a minor.
He claimed that the sex had been consensual, judicial sources said.
Police confiscated a stock of 40 ‘Tavor’ pills at his apartment. Tavor is the Italian brand name for Lorazepam, a powerful anti-anxiety drug which has featured regularly in date-rape cases thanks to its ability to trigger confusion, weakness and amnesia in people taking it.
Pending his trial, Maglio was placed under house arrest and suspended from the Carabinieri, which is a branch of the Italian army.
By that stage, complaints about his conduct had begun to circulate online and his Couchsurfing account had been suspended by the site’s safety team.
He was however able to re-register under a different alias and resumed his attempts to lure women.
Police discovered what he was up to and a raid found him in the company of two women, an Argentinian and an Armenian who showed symptoms of having been drugged.
He was then placed in pre-trial custody.