American expat Marc Pearce has angrily hit back at an official statement that he had “questionable material” on his phone when he took 9-year-old Ngatapuna Raela through Los Angeles Airport.
He indicated he had no idea what US Customs and the Cook Islands Government were talking about.
“Do you suppose that ‘questionable material’ was Cook Islands dancing ladies shaking their bottoms?” he asked.
“Of the 6500 photos on my iPhone, got any idea which ones they might be, or are you slandering me?”
The 72-year-old family friend and neighbour traveled with Puna to the United States on May 25, on what was planned to be a month-long holiday.
He had her parents’ approval, but after he presented the wrong papers for her, he was taken in for questioning.
He was eventually released – claiming he had no idea what the problem was. But Puna was put in the Southwest Key detention facility for unaccompanied immigrant children, where she was kept for two weeks without any contact with her family.
There are now doubts Cook Islands authorities will allow Pearce to return to this country and to Aitutaki, where he has long resided. As a US citizen, he has no automatic right of entry.
Pearce told Cook Islands News he has been in touch with Raela’s family and his plans to return to the Cook Islands were yet to be confirmed.
He insists he is the victim of a cover-up by US Customs and Border Protection: “I think they screwed up and want to cover up,” he said.
“Questionable material on my phone was not the explanation I was given. That same material would also be on my laptop, but I guess it wasn’t or they didn’t see it.”
Pearce said he had suffered lies, harassment and attempted intimidation by officials, who said they could not contact Puna’s family to verify her travel documents.
“When I was physically removed from Tom Bradley International terminal after 11½ hours without Puna, the first thing I did was contact Puna’s mother, first try.
“I then called her grandfather and was immediately connected.
Raela was finally flown home to Aitutaki on Monday, and is safely back with her family.