Sat, Dec 18, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Portuguese trial of child abusers opens with key guilty plea

AFP , LISBON

The chief accused in a high-profile trial of seven people charged in Portugal with the sexual abuse of minors from a state-run institution admitted his guilt on the witness stand late on Thursday and confirmed the charges against his co-defendants.

"I along with the other defendants are guilty of what is listed in the indictment," said Carlos Silvino, 48, a former driver at Casa Pia, a 224-year-old network of 10 homes and schools which looks after some 4,000 children.

Silvino, nicknamed "Bibi," was the first of seven accused to take the stand in the trial which was delayed for several hours due to legal wrangling over media access to the court.

He told the court how he himself, a former Casa Pia inmate, had been raped "virtually every evening" from the age of four to 13, particularly by "two teachers, two educators, five older students and a priest."

"Rapes of younger children were frequent in all colleges of Casa Pia," he added.

The scandal erupted in September 2002 after the mother of a boy who attended classes at a Casa Pia school told police her son had been raped by Silvino while under his care.

The subsequent investigation uncovered allegations of decades of sexual abuse at the Lisbon-based Casa Pia, the nation's best-known network of institutions for troubled or orphaned children.

Most of the abuse allegedly committed by the defendants was on boys between the ages of 12 and 16.

A 62-year-old woman is also among the seven accused. She is charged with providing her home for the sexual encounters to take place.

The case has shattered public trust in the authorities, especially after reports surfaced that children had complained about being abused since the mid-1970s, including to a former Portuguese president, and yet no action was taken.

Silvino, who is charged with 634 offences, including 598 counts of sexual abuse of minors, is also suspected of procuring children to wealthy child molesters for more than 20 years.

"I took some boys to these homes. I have dates and addresses where they went to make movies, attend parties or sex orgies," he added.

The defendant said he regretted his actions and wanted to personally apologize to the victims.

"I know that what I did is wrong. I would like to ask for their forgiveness," he said, stressing that he was prepared to co-operate fully with authorities.

Antonio Pinto Pereira, a lawyer for the presumed victims, said Silvino's testimony was "a major contribution as he had hobnobbed with both the accused and the victims."

Earlier the court ruled that the media could cover the hearing.

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