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Portugal Child Sex Case dropped

BBC NEWS Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 June, 2004, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK


Paulo Pedroso
Pedroso has maintained his innocence throughout the inquiry
A Portuguese judge has thrown out the case against a leading politician charged with paedophile offences.

Ex-government minister Paulo Pedroso spent four months in custody last year, accused of being part of a sex ring.

Two other suspects - TV comedian Herman Jose and archaeologist Francisco Alves - have also had the charges dropped by an investigating magistrate.

The move is the latest twist in a long inquiry into an alleged sex ring at the Casa Pia children's home in Lisbon.

But seven others will still face trial - among them TV presenter Carlos Cruz and a former ambassador, Jorge Ritto.

The first battle to prove my innocence has ended today
Paolo Pedroso
Mr Pedroso had been accused of 23 charges of child sex abuse.

After the ruling that he would no longer stand trial, Mr Pedroso said in a statement that he felt "persecuted and humiliated" by the charges, but would now try to be reinstated in his seat in parliament.

"The first battle to prove my innocence has ended today," he said in a statement.

Abuse at Casa Pia is said to have gone on for years, starting in the mid-1970s.

Reports suggest children's complaints were ignored until 2002, when Portuguese media reported that a driver at Casa Pia had helped wealthy alleged child molesters meet youngsters in his care. Some of the victims were said to be severely disabled.

arrest of caretaker
The investigation began more than a year ago
Police have questioned about 600 people in their lengthy inquiry since then, amid reports from staff that up to 100 children may have been abused.

No trial date has yet been set for the remaining suspects.

Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio has described the case as a national disgrace.

Despite the dropping of child abuse charges against Mr Alves, he will still face charges for the illegal possession of a gun found during the police inquiry.

Casa Pia runs a network of 10 children's homes, with more than 4,500 children in its care.