Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

PORTUGAL: Prominent Figures Sentenced in Child Sex Ring Scandal

Mario de Queiroz

LISBON, Sep 3 2010 (IPS) - A trial that dragged on for six years amidst public outrage ended Friday in Portugal with the unexpected sentencing of prominent personalities, found guilty in a child sex abuse scandal that shook the nation.

The sex ring scandal involving the Casa Pía state-run children’s home in Lisbon broke in late 2002, when a whistleblower went to the press.

After a police investigation, the case went to court in November 2004, and became the longest, most costly trial in the history of Portugal.

In the 66,100-page, 273-volume ruling with 588 appendices, whose summary took all day long to read out, the three-judge panel convicted six of the seven defendants of child sex abuse committed in the 1980s and 1990s.

In Casa Pía, which is home to 3,500 orphans and abandoned or troubled children from around the country, a pedophile ring whose clients included politicians, diplomats, doctors, lawyers and journalists, operated in secrecy for two decades.

The youngsters, mainly boys, were driven by the Casa Pía driver, Carlos Silvino, to different locations, where they were abused by the six men sentenced Friday.

Since the start of the trial on Nov. 25, 2004, 461 hearings were held in different courtrooms; 1,000 CDs, 352 DVDs, 1,000 tape recordings and 12 videos were listened to or watched; and 981 people, including witnesses, victims and defendants, testified.

The most well-known defendants are Carlos Cruz, the country’s most popular television presenter until 2002, and Jorge Ritto, who retired in 2002 after a long and distinguished diplomatic career that included assignments as Portugal’s ambassador to South Africa and to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Paris.

Silvino, who was at the centre of the ring, was sentenced to 18 years in prison; Cruz and Dr. João Ferreira Diniz to seven years; Manuel Abrantes, a former assistant director of Casa Pía, to five years and nine months; Ritto, to six years and eight months; and lawyer Hugo Marçal, to six years and two months.

Gertrudes Nunes, 68, whose home in Elvas, 13 km from the Spanish border on the road from Lisbon to Madrid, was used by the sex ring, was acquitted.

Five of the convicted men have to pay compensation of 25,000 euros (32,200 dollars) to each victim, while Silvino has to pay 15,000 euros (19,325) to each.

The defendants can appeal the verdict, which the three judges took turns reading out.

As a result, the case will likely continue to drag on for years, due to the slow pace of justice in Portugal, which has caused public outrage.

However, the initial public reactions were positive. Fernanda Aguiar, who was in the crowd outside the courthouse, which was cordoned off by the police Friday, told IPS “this is the first time the judges have convicted prominent people, which could indicate that things are starting to change.”

Aguiar, who works at a Lisbon hotel, added that the case was especially important because “it involves pedophilia, which includes child prostitution, something I see every day from the windows of the hotel,” which sits across from the Eduardo VII park in central Lisbon.

The park is a notorious gay cruising spot, where many of the male prostitutes are underage, and most of the clients who pick them up are over 40.

“That’s why today, when I got off work, I came over here to see what would happen,” she said. “I hope this serves as an example for the men who cruise by the park in their fancy cars picking up boys who are poor.”

Child sex abuse is a problem throughout the European Union, which began in 2004 to expand and strengthen its mechanisms for tracking down missing children and combating child sexual exploitation, which is especially an issue in the bloc’s poorest countries.

That year, the European Commission, the EU executive organ, released a study on the practical application of the Interpol’s international child sexual exploitation database.

Without questioning the police measures taken, the European Communist Party says child sexual exploitation is inextricably linked to problems like discrimination and poverty — in other words, the problem can only be solved “when that situation is also resolved, independently of the necessary law enforcement action.”

In March 2009, the EU formed an alliance between companies and police forces, with the aim of exchanging private financial information and identifying criminals involved in the sale of online child porn.

The initiative to fight child porn web sites and protect victims involves the EU, credit card companies, internet providers and police forces. Companies that have signed on include MasterCard, Microsoft, PayPal and Visa Europe.

In March, Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, presented proposals to harmonise the prosecution of child sex abuse and human trafficking, and to step up the fight against online child porn by including new forms of abuse, such as luring children over the internet, having children pose sexually in front of webcams, or watching child porn without downloading.

In response to criticism, she said “Child pornography is not about freedom of expression. It is a horrendous crime. It is not about circulating an opinion.”

Worldwide, reports of online child porn increased 149 percent between 2003 and 2008, according to a 2009 report by an Italian NGO, Telefono Arcobaleno, which monitors the internet on a daily basis to detect pedophile activity and warn web operators and the authorities.

Europe is the region with the most online, and fastest-growing, child porn activity. From 2003 to 2008, child porn material grew 406 percent on European web servers.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags