ROME - An Italian policeman who posed as an amiable host on the Couchsurfing.com website has been charged with drugging and raping a 16-year-old Australian and may have done the same to up to 15 other women, judicial sources said Friday.
Dino Maglio, 35, will go stand 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.
Its declared aim is "a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection" but its model has been criticised in the past because of 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 charged, and 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.