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Asylum Seeker Charged With Perjury

September 10, 2002

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NEW YORK (AP) _ A woman awarded political asylum after saying she faced genital mutilation in her African homeland was arrested Monday and charged with making up the story.

The woman, who called herself Adelaide Abankwah and said she was a tribal princess in rural Ghana, attracted the sympathy of politicians and celebrities as she sought asylum in the United States.

Authorities said she is really 33-year-old Regina Norman Danson, who used a doctored passport to enter the country in 1997, then made up the story at an immigration hearing.

Danson’s attorney, Kenneth Montgomery, said Monday his client’s plight was real. ``She told the truth,″ he said.

Danson, who pleaded innocent to federal perjury charges, was being held on $200,000 bond.

The woman spent two years at a detention facility after she was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport for using a falsified passport.

At her asylum hearing, Danson told a judge that as a ``queen mother″ in waiting, she faced genital mutilation and possibly death because she had violated tribal law by losing her virginity, according to court papers.

The judge denied the application, noting Ghana had outlawed genital mutilation in 1994 and that her identity was in doubt. An appeals court reversed the decision in 1999 after she attracted support from feminist Gloria Steinem, actress Julia Roberts and then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In 2000, The Washington Post reported that an Immigration and Naturalization Service investigation had concluded Danson’s story was false.

The Post, citing unnamed officials, said the Justice Department was reluctant to respond to INS demands to prosecute Danson for fear of embarrassing her prominent supporters.

The indictment against Danson was filed Friday, a few days before the statute of limitations would have run out on perjury and false-statement charges. Federal prosecutors in New York declined to comment on the delay.

If convicted, Danson could face up to 10 years in prison and deportation. A trial date was set for Nov. 11.

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