The Spanish High Court convicted an 85-year old doctor of stealing a child at birth on Monday, but will not serve time due to the statute of limitations.
The gynaecologist Eduardo Vela was found guilty of trafficking children during the Franco regime.
The charges include abduction and forgery.
Abduction has a 10-year statute of limitation. The accuser, in this case, Mrs Madrigal, was born in 1969. The court ruled that she was stolen from her parents and handed over to a married couple. A fake death certificate shown to her parents was followed by a fake birth certificate, passing “ownership rights” to the new couple.
Madrigal would later be told that her mother was a married woman that had an affair.
The statute of limitations expired in 1997, that is, ten years since Madrigal was legally an adult. Had he been sentenced the Doctor would face an 11-year sentence and a €150,000 fine. For years, Vela had tried to avoid the trial, claiming poor health.
The Vela case is the tip of the iceberg.
In recent years it has become clear that during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco children were frequently snatched from Republican, poor, or single mothers and handed over to wealthier loyalists. Some of the children ended up in Chile, Mexico and the United States.
The practice started in the immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
Spanish prosecutors have been reluctant to prosecute due to a 1977 law that amnestied members of Franco’s regime. Vela’s is the first conviction. In 2013, the 87-year old nun María Gómez Valbuena faced charges of kidnapping and forgery but died before the trial.
Vela’s adopted mother cooperated with her daughter to prosecute the doctor that facilitated an estimated 1500 kidnappings. In 2008, Judge Baltasar Garzon estimated that the Franco regime facilitated the kidnap of 30,000.
Ms Madrigal and her lawyer intend to appeal the decision to let the doctor walk.