The leader of a now-dismantled colony founded by German immigrants in southern Chile was convicted on Wednesday of sexually abusing 25 children in the enclave in southern Chile and was sentenced to 20 years in jail.
The sentence announced by Judge Hernan Gonzalez can be appealed, but lawyers for convicted Paul Schaefer, 84, were not immediately available for comment.
Gonzalez also sentenced him to pay 770 million pesos (US$1.43 million) to 11 of the children whose families filed a civil suit against the former leader of Colonia Dignidad, or “Dignity Colony.” The colony, 340km south of Santiago, was founded by Schaefer and other German immigrants in the early 1960s, and it developed into a prosperous farming operation.
It also had a hospital and school offering free services to poor families in the area.
Its leaders, however, were accused here and abroad of serious human rights abuses against the more than 300 residents in the enclave, and later of allowing secret police during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of General Augusto
Pinochet to use the colony as a detention, torture and execution center.
Schaefer and other colony leaders rejected the accusations, calling them part of a communist-inspired smear campaign.
But a series of legal investigations after civilian rule was restored found evidence of the forced disappearance of several people who were arrested and taken there, among them American mathematician Boris Weisfeiler, missing since 1985. At least 18 people remain under indictment, including top commanders of Pinochet’s secret police, Schaefer and other former colony leaders.
Authorities have gradually dismantled the colony since Pinochet stepped down from power, but a number of residents continue to live in the sprawling farm. Others have returned to Germany.
In a letter published last December, former colony members who still live there admitted that “serious abuses” occurred in the secretive enclave during the Pinochet regime and asked for forgiveness from Chileans.
They said Schaefer was responsible, because “he allowed our villa to be used for the detention and repression of people persecuted” by the Pinochet regime.
Colony residents “became real slaves of Schaefer, like robots dedicated only to obey his orders and not displease him,” they added, saying that those who angered Schaefer “were the subject of atrocious punishments, even including torture. They were given high doses of tranquilizers, were submitted to electric shocks and were isolated for long periods, even years.”