Doctor guilty in Spanish 'stolen babies' case can not be punished

Blanche Robertson
October 10, 2018

Decades after the fact, Spain is expected Monday, the verdict of the first trial of the "baby robbed" of francoism, a scandal that involves potentially thousands of new-born babies removed from their mother and placed with families for adoption under the dictatorship of Franco.

During the investigation, the gynecologist admitted that "he signed without reading" the medical record indicating that he attended the delivery; however, he denied his testimony before the court and said the signature was not for him.

Ms Madrigal was in court for the verdict but Vela was absent.

The right-wing regime waged a campaign to take away the children of poor families, prisoners or political enemies, sometimes stripping women of their newborns by lying and saying they had died during labor.

Prosecutors wanted him jailed for 11 years.

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

However, because Ms Madrigal failed to take the case for 25 years after she first became an adult - in 1987 - it fell foul of the statute of limitations, which is 10 years.

"I'm happy because the judges are acknowledging that there was theft, that I was taken away from my mother, but I didn't think they would stop short of convicting him", she told reporters, adding that "the judges should have been fearless".

But this was overruled by the court.

However, he was cleared by the Madrid court because too much time had elapsed by the time Ms Madrigal made her complaint in 2012.

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She told AFP many victims found out they had been robbed from their biological mothers decades after they turned 18. But the doctor was acquitted because the court ruled that the statute of limitations had expired.

Even after Spain transitioned to democracy following Franco's death in 1975, the illegal trafficking went on up to at least 1987.

The "stolen babies" phenomenon emerged after the oppression that followed the Spanish civil war (1939-1936).

During the trial, Vela said he could not remember details about the operation of the clinic, which he ran for 20 years up to 1982.

An amnesty law adopted in 1977, aimed at smoothing the transition to democracy, made it hard to look into baby trafficking as courts and politicians refused to investigate it.

"I'm happy because it's been proven that I was stolen, Dr Vela stole me", she said.

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 video conference.

Judicial process in respect of Vela began in late June.

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