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Party Chief Called to Testify in Lisbon Child Sex Scandal

The Independent on Sunday, 04 June 2003 by Elizabeth Nash in Madrid

Portugal's Socialist Party leader is expected to appear in court in Lisbon today to testify in a child sex scandal that has ripped through the political and showbusiness elite.

The case has shocked the nation and shattered public confidence in politicians and the legal system in one of the worst crises for the country since the 1974 Carnation revolution.

Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues is the latest and most senior in a stream of politicians, diplomats and television talkshow hosts to be implicated in a paedophile ring said to have preyed for decades on boys in a state-run orphanage.

Mr Rodrigues is likely to be asked whether he covered up illicit activities: he is not suspected of participating in them. But his influential deputy, the former Labour minister Paulo Pedroso, was detained last month over accusations of15 counts of child sex abuse.

Public opinion has been shaken by allegations that police and other authorities allowed powerful clients to abuse the boys sexually and prostitute them, and did nothing to stop them for 30 years.

Several former inmates of the Casa Pia boys' home in Lisbon have described the sexual abuse they received in the 1970s and 1980s. An official report said that among the children still living at Casa Pia, at least 128 had been subjected to sexual abuse. Many are deaf and dumb.

Mr Pedroso, 38, is accused of committing offences in the late 1990s. He resigned his party responsibilities before he was detained on 22 May and stepped down as an MP last Thursday.

On Friday the comedian and television chatshow host Herman Jose was questioned. He was released pending further inquiries, and insisted he had done nothing wrong.

Seven people have been detained during court investigations that began last autumn. The chief suspect is the former orphanage employee Carlos Silvino, known as Bibi, who is accused of raping the children in his care and procuring minors for prostitution. Mr Silvino, himself a Casa Pia product, was denounced to police by a former inmate. He denies wrongdoing.

Investigating journalists, helped by two former inmates now in their thirties, reported that "Bibi" had abused children for 30 years while working for Casa Pia. Former inmates said he was protected by public figures who used him as an intermediary to obtain boys for them. One former inmate, Pedro Namora, a lawyer, says he has received death threats for spilling the beans.

The best-known detainee is Carlos Cruz, Portugal's most famous television presenter, and a friend of Mr Jose. Also in jail are: Hugo Marcal, Mr Silvino's former lawyer; Joao Ferreira Diniz, a doctor at the institution;Manuel Abrantes, the former director; and Jorge Ritto, a former ambassador to Unesco. All are accused of child abuse.

The former secretary of state for families told parliament last December that Antonio Ramalho Eanes, the former president, Jaime Gama, the former foreign secretary, and the police all knew of the abuse. Teresa Costa Macedo said state television had filmed six boys who told Mr Eanes about the abuse, but had not broadcast the footage.

Ms Costa Macedo said she sent testimonies and photographs to the police 20 years ago, but they did nothing. Police at first denied her reports existed, then produced them.

Casa Pia still had "the atmosphere of a terror movie", Catalina Pestana, who becamedirector last November, said recently. "There are other people involved, but the children don't know their names. They only know their faces, and call them 'Mr Doctor' or 'Mr Engineer'."