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Soldier who killed 16 Afghans Robert Bales had debts of $1.5m

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The US soldier accused of murdering 16 Afghan civilians in this month's unprovoked shooting spree was $1.5 million (£950,000), in debt and in danger of losing his home, according to reports yesterday.

Robert Bales, a 38-year-old Staff Sergeant, was found guilty of securities fraud before joining the army, and still owed his victims hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation and punitive damages.

He carried out the financial crimes while working at MPI, a brokerage firm in Ohio. A report filed by federal regulators in 2003 concluded he had "engaged in fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, churning, unauthorised trading and unsuitable investments" on behalf of clients.

A former victim called Gary Liebschner described Bales as a smooth-talking conman who had caused him to lose $1.2million (£756,000) in savings. Working as a stockbroker, he had sold AT&T shares on Liebschner's behalf, but disappeared with the proceeds. "He robbed me of my life savings," Mr Liebschner told ABC News. "We didn't know where he was. We heard the Bahamas, and all kinds of places."

The next time Mr Liebschner saw Robert Bales was when his face was splashed across the front pages after the 11 March shooting spree. It emerged that, despite his dubious past, he had joined the US army.

Lawyers working on behalf of victims had spent years attempting to track him down to seek the compensation they were owed. He turns out to have been living between deployments in Washington State, with a wife and children, where he owned several properties that were underwater on their mortgage.

Bales met with his lawyer, John Henry Browne, on Monday. He apparently claimed to have forgotten many details of this month's massacre. "He has some memory of some things that happened that night," Browne told the Associated Press. "He has some memories of before the incident and he has some memories of after the incident. In between, very little."

In a statement, Bales's wife, Karilyn, offered her condolences to the victims, and said she was still struggling to come to terms with what happened. Reports of the shootings that she had read and seen in news reports were "completely out of character of the man I know and admire," she said. "My family are all profoundly sad. We extend our condolences to all the people of the Panjawai District. Our hearts go out to all of them."