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Singapore: American arrested for criminal complaint

By the CNN Wire Staff
Caning is widely used as punishment in Singapore.
Caning is widely used as punishment in Singapore.
  • NEW: Singapore embassy says American was arrested for criminal allegations
  • Former college football player Kamari Charlton could get three strokes, lawyers say
  • He overstayed his visa to stay in Singapore by 169 days
  • Charlton was in the country with his wife, who was on a medical visa
  • Singapore

(CNN) -- An American businessman was arrested in Singapore for a series of criminal complaints against him -- not for overstaying his visa as his legal defense team claims, according to a Singapore embassy spokesman.

Police who arrested Kamari Charlton on September 1 at the Changi Airport were acting on an Interpol alert that he was wanted on allegations of money laundering and running a phone-scam operation in Australia, said embassy spokesman Siewgay Ong.

The fact that Charlton, 37, overstayed his visa was revealed only after he was arrested, he said.

Earlier Friday, attorneys for Charlton said he could face three strokes with a cane for overstaying his visa in Singapore. He also could face a six-month jail sentence if convicted, they said.

Charlton was about to leave Singapore with his pregnant wife when he was arrested, said Arun Maaran of Charlton's defense team. He's been in jail since.

His wife is thought to have returned to the Bahamas, where they live, Maaran said. Contact has been sporadic, because she is thought to have been hospitalized with complications to her pregnancy.

Consular officers from the U.S. Embassy have visited Charlton six times, said spokeswoman Rachel Ehrendreich.

A statement from police in Singapore on Friday said, "As investigations are ongoing, no final decision has yet been made on the precise charges" that may be filed against Charlton.

Caning is widely used as punishment in Singapore, but Charlton's case is unique, his defense team argues. His wife was in the country on a six-month medical visa, while he was on a three-month tourist visa. Unlike most offenders who overstay, Maaran said, Charlton was not in Singapore to take advantage of its strong economy by working illegally. He overstayed by 169 days, according to court documents.

The former Florida State University college football player now successfully runs a construction company, his legal team says.

Charlton's case was to be heard late Friday afternoon to decide whether he has been discriminated against. If he prevails, his case could end up in high court and be resolved within a week or two. But many legal scenarios could play out and the case could drag on, Maaran said.

Police denied the claims of discrimination, saying they are "wholly baseless."

The discrimination argument is based on another case involving overstaying a visa. A cousin of Charlton's wife also overstayed but was allowed to leave Singapore after paying a fine, Maaran said.

If convicted, Charlton would be caned unless he could provided a medical reason otherwise.

The case is reminiscent of the 1994 case of American teenager Michael Faye, who was sentenced to caning for vandalism in Singapore. After U.S. officials requested leniency, the Singapore government reduced the number of lashes he was given.

The U.S. Embassy in Singapore is closely monitoring Charlton's case, Ehrendreich said.

"We remind U.S. citizens that foreigners in any country are subject to the laws of that country," she said. "We respect Singapore's right to try and sentence individuals within due process of law."

CNN's Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.