Jail terms of up to 18 years in Portuguese paedophilia case

September 3rd, 2010 - 11:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Lisbon, Sep 3 (DPA) A Portuguese court Friday found six out of seven defendants guilty in a high-profile paedophilia case which has shocked the nation, and handed out prison sentences of up to 18 years.
The accused, who included several prominent personalities, were charged with having abused or helped to abuse at least 32 children staying at the state-owned Casa Pia children’s homes.

Six male defendants were found guilty of crimes including sexual abuse, rape, sex with minors and procurement.

The seventh accused was a woman suspected of having allowed her house to be used for abuse. The court said there was evidence of her having done so, but that her case did not meet the legal requirements for sentencing her.

Former Casa Pia driver Carlos Silvino, who had been charged with abusing and procuring children for wealthy paedophiles, was sentenced to 18 years. He was found guilty of 167 sex crimes, most of which were abuse crimes.

Silvino was the only one among the accused to have pleaded guilty to some of the charges. He explained his behaviour by saying he himself had been abused as a child.

Popular television presenter Carlos Cruz, who continued protesting his innocence, was handed seven years.

High society doctor Joao Ferreira Diniz also got seven years; former Portuguese diplomat Jorge Ritto six years and eight months; lawyer Hugo Marcal six years and two months; and former Casa Pia supervisor Manuel Abrantes five years and nine months.

The defendants were also ordered to pay the victims damages ranging from 15,000 to 25,000 euros ($19,200 to $32,000).

The prosecution had asked for minimum jail terms of five years. The accused faced sentences of up to 10 years.

The court said the sex abuse took place in different places, such as private houses, a holiday camp and a school garage.

It rejected arguments by the defence that the children had been manipulated to invent stories about the accused.

The court said the Casa Pia institution shared some of the responsibility in “ignoring and downplaying” situations that could harm the children in its care.

The verdicts were expected to be followed by a lengthy appeal process.

The scandal broke in November 2002 when a media report uncovered the alleged abuse of children, most of them boys, over several decades.

Evidence of abuse at the Casa Pia homes had surfaced in the 1980s, but investigations were dropped and documents disappeared in what some believe was a cover-up.

In the trial, 32 alleged victims testified, providing gruesome accounts of the abuse they had suffered.

The five-year trial was the longest ever in Portugal, featuring 460 sessions at four different courtrooms, 920 witnesses and more than 60,000 pages of documents.

Charges were dropped against three people during the trial, including a former labour minister.

Moves by defence lawyers lengthened proceedings, drawing attention to the perceived slowness and inefficiency of Portugal’s judicial system.

The defendants “are people without scruples,” an alleged victim named Miguel, now aged 23, told the daily Publico. “And they don’t feel any remorse … Those things are in my memory, they come up in nightmares.”

Not all the abusers had been brought to justice, one of the victims, Bernardo Teixeira, said. Many people had got away with their crimes because of the “errors of police and the state”, he charged.

He said some of those who escaped charges had “important” social status.

The trial is seen as having smashed the taboo of openly discussing child abuse in Portugal, where such investigations have increased.

Suspicions that members of Portugal’s elite had abused children staying at one of the country’s oldest and most respected public institutions shocked the nation.

The paedophiles targeted the most defenceless children, such as orphans and deaf-and-dumb boys.

The Casa Pia case has been compared with that of paedophile and child murderer Marc Dutroux, which uncovered a web of judicial and political corruption in Belgium.

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