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Imam charged with solemnising underage marriage

Date

Emma Partridge, Leesha McKenny

Police have arrested and charged an imam accused of conducting the marriage of a 12-year-old girl in the Hunter Valley this year.

Detectives from the Child Abuse Squad arrested the 35-year-old Pakistan-born man outside Parramatta police station about 4.30pm on Monday afternoon, police said.

They charged him with solemnisation of a marriage by an unauthorised person.

Police will allege he agreed to conduct a ceremony after he was approached by a 26-year-old man, who was eager to marry the girl.

The 26-year-old, a Lebanese man who is living in Australia on a student visa, has been charged with 25 counts of having sexual intercourse with an underage child.

He is in custody and is expected to make an application for bail before Burwood Local Court on Wednesday.

It had been reported the imam had gone to ground.

"He was located outside the police station," a police spokesman said.

"It wasn't arrest by appointment or anything like that, just that we happened to find him outside the police station."

The spokesman said the imam was not related to the girl.

The imam was released on strict conditional bail and is expected to appear before Parramatta Local Court on April 2.

Child abuse detectives told Fairfax Media the imam had been associated with an Islamic centre in the Hunter region "on and off" since 2009.

It is understood he is no longer associated with the centre or mosque.

"We don't know if he has done it before. But there is no evidence to suggest he has conducted a marriage before," a detective said.

Police have not laid charges against the father of the girl, but investigations continue.

Detectives allege the father allowed his daughter to be married to the 26-year-old at his house in a private Islamic ceremony on January 12.

The child and the 26-year-old had been living in south-west Sydney since early January.

Police were made aware of the marriage when the 26-year-old tried to obtain legal guardianship of the girl at Centrelink after she expressed a wish to attend high school.

The girl, who is now aged 13, is now living in foster care.

It is understood NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas will address the media about the marriage at a press conference today.

Investigations by the Child Abuse Squad are continuing, police said.

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