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 Spanish gynecologist Eduardo Vela was responsible for the abduction of a child, faking a birth and falsifying official 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 they would appeal against 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.
A policeman who probed the case and testified in court said the clinic was a center for baby trafficking. He said Vela had burnt the clinic's archives. The policeman said Vela was part of a "plot" to take babies from single mothers in shelters often run by religious orders.
Emilie Helmbacher, a French journalist, also testified by video conference. 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.
Vela, who had denied the charges, was the first person prosecuted over the "stolen babies" scandal that affected thousands during General Francisco Franco's rule.
The baby-stealing practice began after Franco came to power following the 1936-39 civil war. Initially, newborns were taken from leftwing opponents of the regime. Later, the practice was expanded to supposedly illegitimate babies and those from poor families.
Perpetrators wanted the children to be raised by affluent, conservative and devout Roman Catholic families. Even after Spain transitioned to democracy following Franco's death in 1975, the illegal trafficking went on up to at least 1987.
Campaigners estimate tens of thousands of babies may have been stolen from their parents over the decades. A decade ago, a Spanish judge recorded the cases of about 30,000 Spanish children taken at birth during Franco's rule.