Editor's note: This article is part of "Underworld: a global crime blotter," a semi-regular series covering crime and punishment around the world.

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Grisly details of the case fill prime-time Mexican television; risque jokes on it are splashed across front pages; gossip about it flows from coffee shops to street corners.

And this court case has nothing to do with a drug war that has claimed 34,00 lives and been declared a national security problem.

Instead it focuses on what happened — or didn’t happen — in the hotel room of one pop singer.

Kalimba Marichal, a 28-year-old Latin crooner, is accused of hitting and raping a 17-year-old girl after a concert in the Caribbean city of Chetumal.

Kalimba, as he is commonly known, denies the charges.

Assault and rape may not sound like appealing subjects to generate such hot debate.

But to Mexicans, the problems of celebrities offer a welcome reprieve from the stories of massacres, extortion and kidnapping by drug cartels, said renowned author Guadalupe Loeza.

“We have this provincialism, this morbid fascination with the rich and powerful and what happens in their bedrooms,” Loeza said. “When we are living this wave of very frightening violence — any other story is an escape.”

The blanket coverage on the Kalimba case is reminiscent of cases of rape or child molestation in the United States involving such celebrities as Mike Tyson or Michael Jackson.

A further similarity is that Kalimba is black — a Mexican of African descent.

Black Mexicans are rarely seen in the public light and the Mexican census does not identify people by racial group — only by their Spanish or indigenous language.

But activists say there are some million Mexicans with African blood.

Kalimba’s race has been played up in several provocative stories.

The tabloid La Prensa, for example, opened with a front page headline, “Se Ve Las Negras.” The expression means, “He sees black” — which could mean he foresees gloom, although it could also be taken as meaning that he sees black girls.

“Much reporting on this story has used innuendo and suggestion,” Loeza said. “It shows we are still a very racist country.”

However, the public is largely defending the popular pop singer. Many see him as a man of the people being attacked by the establishment.

“It is conspiracy. He is being framed. Maybe he upset somebody,” says cafe owner Jacobo Suarez as he pours a round of capuchinis.

When TV presenter Carlos Loret de Mola grilled Kalimba over the charges, many complained the journalist browbeat the entertainer too much.

YouTube videos have even been released attacking Loret de Mola over the interview.

The case itself revolves around 17-year-old escort Daiana Gomez — sent to accompany Kalimba and his entourage at the nightclub where they played the concert on Dec. 18.

Gomez said in a TV interview that she and another escort aged 16 indeed were invited back to the hotel expecting a party.

Back in the hotel, Gomez says she saw the fellow escort go into a room with three naked men and the door being closed.

Kalimba then hit her, told her to shut up and raped her, she claims.

In his own interview, Kalimba on the verge of tears said Gomez is lying.

“I didn’t rape anyone. I didn’t abuse anyone. It was a small hotel. Someone would have heard if I attacked her. How come I have no marks on me?” he said. “I have many women in my family. I would never abuse women.”

However, Kalimba did not confirm or deny whether he had sex with the underage girl.

He also said that both girls went to see him off at the airport, remarking that would have been strange if Gomez had been raped.

State prosecutor Francisco Alor took declarations from both Kalimba and Gomez and ruled there was enough evidence to file preliminary rape charges against the pop singer.

If convicted, Kalimba could face up to 50 years in prison.

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