Jose Manuel Ribeiro/Reuters Former orphanage director Catalina Pestana embraces abuse
victim Pedro Namora at the court in Lisbon yesterday
To most people Portugal's state-run orphanages seemed
like a safe haven for thousands of children who had been robbed of their
parents. They were called the Casa Pia, or Houses of the Pious.
But for an elite paedophile ring, which included a
former ambassador and a prominent television celebrity, Casa Pia
orphanages were something entirely different. They were supermarkets
stocked with children to abuse. Yesterday, at the conclusion of the
longest trial in Portugal's history, seven defendants were convicted of
using the orphanages to rape and abuse scores of teenage boys in a case
that has sent shockwaves through the country's political elite and
raised serious concerns over the efficiency of Portugal's judiciary. Six
of the seven were given jail terms of between five and 18 years.
The trial, in Lisbon's top criminal court, is thought to
be the largest ever undertaken by Portugal's court system. Over five and
half years, more than 800 witnesses, including 32 alleged victims, gave
evidence detailing how a paedophile ring used the orphanages to source
children for wealthy and influential clients. The sentencing document
alone, of which judges spent most of yesterday reading a summary, runs
to 2,000 pages.
Two of those found guilty included Carlos Cruz, a
popular television chat-show host with 30 years in show business, and
Jorge Ritto, a former ambassador once sent home in disgrace from a
posting in Germany over allegations that he had been having an improper
relationship with a young boy in a park.
Their co-defendants included Carlos Silvino, an
orphanage driver who would ferry children to paedophile houses; Joao
Ferreira Diniz, a prominent doctor who often deliberately picked out
deaf and dumb children; Manuel Abrantes, a former deputy principal at an
orphanage; solicitor Hugo Marcal and Gertrude Nunes, the only female
defendant who allowed her house to be used by the paedophile ring. The
successful convictions, eight years after the paedophile scandal was
exposed, is a major victory for Portuguese police, under intense
criticism over their handling of the investigation into the
One of the lead
detectives in the Casa Pia case,
Paulo Rebelo, also investigated the
Madeleine McCann disappearance after the original lead investigator was
sacked. Rebelo and his team of forensic investigators – called "the
cleaners" because they leave no stones unturned – are said to have
played a pivotal role in securing the convictions.
But the trial was dogged by accusations that witnesses
had been intimidated, and allegations that senior politicians turned a
blind eye to the abuse to protect friends. Reports that paedophiles were
using Casa Pia orphanages to source victims surfaced in the early 1980s
but they were swept under the carpet. Teresa Costa Macedo, a senior
government official, said she informed the country's then president,
General Ramalho Eanes, and provided photographic evidence. But the
photographs were "lost" by police and Mrs Macedo said she was also
intimidated by phone calls from anonymous callers. "They said they would
kill me, flay me and a lot of other things," she recalled.
The current trial began in 2004 after a lengthy
investigation started by nine boys who had been at one of the homes in
Lisbon accused several people of sexual abuse between 1998 and 2001.
Their decision to come forward prompted hundreds more witnesses to speak
out and has lead to a tripling in the number of child-abuse
investigations across Portugal.
Victims have told investigators that abuse at Casa Pia
orphanages – of which there about 10 around the country – occurred as
far back as the 1970s but most witness testimonies used for the trial
came from victims who were abused during the 1990s. Prosecutors still
believe there are more victims out there too scared to talk.
The prosecution's case centred around Silvino, known to
the paedophile ring as "Bibi". The 53-year-old confessed to 639 charges
relating to the abuse of children or procuring them for others, and
testified against the other defendants. He admitted he had used the
orphanages to collect victims and delivered them to co-defendants such
as Cruz who, Silvino claimed, paid cash.
Cruz has denied the accusations and claimed in press
interviews during the trial that he was the victim of prejudice from one
of the three judges trying the case. Yesterday the 68-year-old dismissed
the verdict built on "lies and manipulation", adding: "This is one of
the most monstrous judicial mistakes in Portuguese history."
He and the other defendents are expected to appeal. It
is not clear whether the defendants would be jailed with an appeal
Alvaro Carvalho, a psychiatrist who has counselled the
victims and was in court with some them yesterday, said they were
nervous as they awaited the verdict. "They calmed down when the judge
ruled that the crimes were proven," Mr Carvalho told reporters. "In a
way, it's society making reparation for what happened to them."
Pedro Namora, a former resident of a Casa Pia orphanage who
says he was abused, became a lawyer and played a pivotal role in the
prosecution. "These men have to be condemned," he said. "They committed
barbarous crimes against humanity."
The scandal that
went right to the top
A wealthy doctor, Diniz was arrested in January 2003
near his office in Belem, Lisbon. He insisted on his innocence
throughout the trial. He has been sentenced to seven years in jail after
being found guilty of abusing two children. His accusers claimed they
had been abused by him at a house in Elvas, owned by co-defendant
One of the most high-profile figures to be caught up in
Portugal's largest paedophile ring, Ritto was once a career diplomat
with a glittering career. He retired in 2002 after serving as Portugal's
ambassador to Unesco. During the trial it emerged that he was sent home
from a posting in Stuttgart in the early 1980s after allegations
surfaced that he had been caught in an "improper relationship" with a
boy in a park. He denied all charges in the Casa Pia trial. He was
jailed for six years.
Once voted "Portugal's most popular man", Carlos Cruz
has spent three decades as one of the country's most recognisable
television personalities. The 68-year-old fronted a number of successful
shows during his career in the media and famously married a wife who is
three decades his junior. He was arrested in 2003. He has repeatedly
alleged that his arrest was the result of "a vendetta". Cruz is now
facing a seven-year jail sentence.
The trial in
800 witnesses and experts gave evidence in the case.
4,500 people were cared for at Casa Pia homes for
children in need.
639 crimes were confessed to by ex-Casa Pia driver
2,000 pages: the length of the sentencing document.
victims were identified during the near six-year trial.