International

Spain set for verdict in first 'stolen babies' trial

Spain was set Monday for the verdict in the first trial linked to thousands of suspected cases of newborns stolen from their mothers during and after Francisco Franco's dictatorship.

Demonstrators and victims of the stolen baby policy often held vigil outside the court during the trial
Demonstrators and victims of the stolen baby policy often held vigil outside the court during the trial (AFP)

Spain was set Monday for the verdict in the first trial linked to thousands of suspected cases of newborns stolen from their mothers during and after Francisco Franco's dictatorship.

The scandal saw babies taken away from their mothers, who were told they had suddenly died after birth, and adopted by infertile couples, preferably close to the far-right regime, often with the help of the Catholic Church.

Eduardo Vela, an 85-year-old former gynaecologist who used to run a clinic, is the first to stand trial for alleged involvement in the baby trafficking.

Prosecutors want him jailed for 11 years.

Vela is accused of having taken Ines Madrigal, now 49, from her biological mother in 1969 and given her to another woman who was falsely certified as her birth mother.

Madrigal hopes that her case will help open "thousands of cases that are closed" even if she will never know who her real mother was.

"In this country, a person who played God... cannot remain unpunished," she said in September at the end of the hearings.

Both sides have been summoned to the Madrid court trying the case at 11:00 am (0900 GMT) on Monday to hear the verdict.

The baby-stealing practice began after Franco came to power following the 1936-39 civil war.

'Plot'

Initially, newborns were taken from left-wing opponents of the regime.

Later, the practice was expanded to illegitimate babies and those from poor families.

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.

Campaigners estimate tens of thousands of babies may have been stolen from their parents over the decades.

Vila is accused of falsifying official documents, illegal adoption, unlawful detention and certifying a non-existent birth.

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 policeman who probed the case and testified in court said the clinic was a centre for baby trafficking.

He added Vela had burnt his clinic's archives.

But the policeman insisted "there was a plot to which Mr Vela probably belonged" that involved taking babies from single mothers in shelters often run by religious orders.

Emilie Helmbacher, a French journalist, also testified by videoconference.

In an investigation 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, he said "Ines Madrigal's mother did not pay" for her.

Vela's lawyer Rafael Casas criticised the hidden camera recording and said his client had "nothing to do" with what had been alleged.