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Korea-based soldier charged with arson in Hooker Hill fire

A U.S. soldier allegedly started a fire on Tuesday morning inside Tiger Tavern, a club on Itaewon's Hooker Hill, that spread to three adjacent businesses, all shown here.

SEOUL — South Korean prosecutors last week charged a U.S. soldier with setting fire to an Itaewon tavern in November, causing more than $35,000 in damage to three buildings on the street known as “Hooker Hill.”

Pfc. Marcos Pedraza-Pascual of the 8th Army’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion was indicted on a charge of arson by the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office on Feb. 8. He has not yet been arrested.

Pedraza-Pascual is accused of starting a fire that gutted a business that has been off limits to U.S. troops since 2003 because of its suspected involvement in prostitution and human trafficking. The fire received significant attention in the South Korean media because police believed it was started by a U.S. soldier, and because it came during a period of heightened scrutiny of U.S. servicemembers’ behavior.

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In the months prior to the fire, two fellow U.S. Forces Korea soldiers were accused of raping South Korean teenagers in separate incidents in Seoul, leading to anti-American protests and calls to reform the status of forces agreement between the two countries.

Prosecutors have refused to release details about the fire or the findings of their investigation.

However, South Korean police said in previous interviews that the fire began after a soldier lit a candle near a cot at the Tiger Tavern around 2:30 a.m. following an argument with the club’s owner. In the hours after the fire, Yongsan police took photos of approximately 20 foreigners in Itaewon. From those photos, the tavern’s owner identified the soldier as the man with whom she had argued, police said. Police did not say what started the argument.

Closed-circuit television footage from the area outside the club also showed a man believed to be the soldier leaving the area after the fire began, the police official said.

During questioning, the soldier said he had been drinking, the police official said. He told police that he left a room at the tavern to go to the restroom. When he returned to the room, there was a fire, according to the police.

A trial date has not been set.

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