Tue, Oct 09, 2018 - Page 7 News List

‘Stolen baby’ doctor guilty, but cannot be punished

TOO SLOW:The court said gynecologist Eduardo Vela abducted a child, faked a birth and falsified documents, but was absolved when the baby reached adulthood

Reuters, MADRID

A Spanish doctor accused of stealing and selling a baby during the dictatorship is guilty of all charges, but cannot be punished due to the statute of limitations, a Madrid court said yesterday.

The court said 85-year-old gynecologist Eduardo Vela was responsible for abducting a child, faking a birth and falsifying documents, but was absolved after the baby reached adulthood in 1987.

The lawyer of the woman at the center of the case, Ines Madrigal, told reporters outside the court that they would appeal the decision.

The statute of limitations imposes deadlines on courts to complete legal proceedings.

Madrigal, who was told by her mother at 18 that she was adopted, accused Vela of forging her 1969 birth certificate to show her adoptive mother, now dead, as her biological parent.

Vela was the first person prosecuted over the “stolen babies” scandal that affected thousands during Spanish dictator general Francisco Franco’s rule.

Campaigners say officials took babies from “unsuitable” mothers — often communist or leftists — and gave them to families with connections to the regime.

Later, the practice was expanded to illegitimate babies and those from poor families. A decade ago, a Spanish judge recorded the cases of about 30,000 Spanish children taken at birth during Franco’s rule.

The guiding principle was that the child would be better off raised by an affluent, conservative and devout Roman Catholic family.

Even after Spain transitioned to democracy following Franco’s death in 1975, the lucrative practice went on as an illegal trafficking network, up to at least 1987.

During questioning in the opening session of the trial, Vela said he could not remember details of how the clinic, which he ran for 20 years up to 1982, operated.

A police investigator testified in court that Vela had burnt his clinic’s archives, but that “there was a plot to which Mr Vela probably belonged” that involved taking babies from single mothers in shelters often run by religious orders.

French journalist Emilie Helmbacher testified by videoconference. In Madrid in December 2013, she used a hidden camera to record Vela as he appeared to confess to having given Madrigal away as a “gift” in June 1969.

In the recording, Vela said “Ines Madrigal’s mother did not pay” for her.

Vela’s lawyer Rafael Casas criticized the hidden camera recording and said his client had “nothing to do” with what had been alleged.

Additional reporting by AFP

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