Fresh doubts are being cast on the political impartiality of judges handling the Casa Pia paedophilia case. In the most recent development in the controversial law suit, investigating magistrates are suspected of leaking anonymous letters to the press that seek to implicate President Jorge Sampaio and European Commissioner António Vitorino, both of whom are Socialists.
The public prosecutor’s office has denied that either politician had links with the case. “The scandal has struck the heart of our democracy,” commented columnist Edgar Correia in the daily Público newspaper. “Portugal is a sick country,” he continued, “and if the paedophilia suspicions are confirmed, the self-esteem of a nation known for its melancholia – ‘saudade’ in Portuguese – will sink to an all-time low”.
Meanwhile, in his first public comments since the suspects were charged, Prime Minister José Manuel Durão Barroso has expressed his confidence in the nation’s justice system, commenting: “I reaffirm my full confidence in Portuguese justice. I expect the guilty will be punished and the innocent will be absolved. The Portuguese just want justice to be done. I join them in this wish.”
The Casa Pia paedophilia scandal: The discovery of a paedophile network in Lisbon’s Casa Pia children’s home is regarded as the country’s most-serious crisis in almost 30 years of democracy. The scandal broke in November 2002, after the weekly newspaper Expresso reported that a driver at Casa Pia had, allegedly, sexually molested minors in his care for over three decades. The driver, 46-year-old Carlos Silvino, went on trial in October 2003 on 35 charges related to the sexual abuse of four minors.
Police meanwhile continued to investigate allegations against Silvino and he now faces more than 1,100 fresh charges, including 664 charges of child sexual abuse and 33 charges of procurement of minors for sex acts. In total, more than 100 children are believed to have been raped or pressured into sexual activities with adults.
Charges have now been formally raised against nine other suspects: Former labour minister, Paulo Pedroso, two television personalities, Carlos Cruz and Herman José, one of the country’s most prominent ambassadors, Jorge Ritto, a high-society doctor, João Ferreira Diniz, who reportedly carried out medical tests on the children before they were sexually abused, a well-known lawyer, a former director of Casa Pia, Manuel Abrantes, a noted archaeologist, Francisco Alves, and a 61-year-old woman, Gertrudes Nunes, who owns a home in southern Portugal where some of the sexual abuse is alleged to have occurred.
Public prosecutors have revealed that the 10 have been charged with seven crimes, including rape, child sexual abuse and the procurement of minors for sex acts. The paedophiles are alleged to have targetted orphans and deaf-and-dumb boys for orgies, many of which apparently took place at Jorge Ritto’s villa near Lisbon.
The country has also been shaken by the revelation that reports of the abuse were initially lodged in the 1980s. Former Secretary of State for Families, Teresa Costa Macedo, has claimed that she received death threats after telling the police and revealed that the investigation was dropped after documents ‘disappeared’ in what she claims was an orchestrated cover-up.