An Australian who has languished, without trial, in a Philippine jail for more than three years is appealing for help to meet spiralling legal fees.
Troy Birthisel, aged 47, from Boyne, Queensland, was arrested at Cebu Airport in October 2013 on suspicion of trafficking sex workers.
He says he was merely accompanying his girlfriend and a group of her friends to Singapore, where they had job interviews arranged.
Mr Birthisel, who is imprisoned in Lapu Lapu city jail in Cebu, insists he is an innocent victim of corrupt officials.
He said the arresting officer at the airport had tried to extort money from him, and that the friends of his girlfriend had been intimidated into making allegations against him.
His case — which has seen countless adjournments and delays — is yet to reach trial.
After his arrest, prosecutors claimed the mining executive operated a Facebook account under the name “George Morrell” to recruit Filipinos for work, perhaps in Singaporean brothels.
“[Lovely] Modina and [Troy] Birthisel recruited and transported [the six women] for overseas employment when in truth they were not authorised,” assistant prosecutor Geronima Baringou told the court during a December 2013 hearing.
However, the prosecution team dropped the charges of human trafficking, citing lack of evidence. Instead, Mr Birthisel is now charged with “illegal recruitment involving economic sabotage” – a crime that could potentially carry a life sentence.
“It’s not a nice thing to be called a human trafficker and a sex slaver. I’ve lost my family, I’ve lost everything,” Mr Birthisel said.
“There is not one piece of evidence to show involvement in human trafficking. It’s disgusting to be honest.”
Mr Birthisel’s girlfriend is also accused of conspiring to commit the same crime, and has also been locked up since October 2013.
The six women who were travelling with the pair were never arrested — and four of them have officially retracted their accusations against the couple.
They now say police confiscated their passports and made them feel “afraid” while making their statements of complaint. Of the other two women, Mr Birthisel said one had “gone underground” while the other continued to work with prosecutors.
“I’m entitled to a day in court and should I be convicted then, fine, I’ll wear that. I don’t believe I’m guilty of anything and I’ve got evidence to say that I’m not.
“I’ve actually got evidence, and they don’t even have evidence,” Mr Birthisel said.
Lengthy incarcerations of foreign suspects without trial has often prompted criticism of the Philippine justice system.
Last year, for example, American Scott McMahon was acquitted of two rape charges after waiting five years for his day in court. In a further injustice, even after being found not guilty and released the Bureau of Immigration demanded fees of about $5,000 for overstaying his visa.
With a third application for bail posted this month, Mr Birthisel is now optimistic that his ordeal could soon be over, but needs financial help.
“Over the last three years in jail, I’ve been lied to by attorneys, and even had them steal from me,” he said. “I’ve finally found an honest hardworking attorney, but I need help to meet my legal defence costs.
“Additionally, I need money just to survive each day by purchasing a little food and water.”
So far, 38 kind-hearted supporters have donated $1,740 — 12 per cent of his $15,000 target.
For more information about Mr Birthisel’s plight, or to donate to his legal fund, visit his fundraising page here.