“Room with bed was only used for scolding”

Karate teacher says sex abuse charges were part of plot to ruin his business

Fernando Torres Baena and his wife María José González in court on Tuesday. / ELVIRA URQUIJO A. (EFE)

The main defendant in what is being billed as Spain’s biggest juvenile sexual abuse scandal said during his trial on Tuesday that the entire charges brought against him are part of a plot aimed at breaking “the monopoly” he had on karate schools in Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands.

Fernando Torres Baena, who is facing more than 100 sex abuse counts, denied having sex with any of his male or female students under the age of 18 as prosecutors have charged. Once one of Spain’s top karate champions, Torres Baena only admitted having sexual relations with two of his gym monitors — his wife María José González and Ivonne González — who are also standing trial for allegedly helping him lure and bait victims for his pleasure.

“When you win national and international tournaments, you celebrate in any way you can,” Torres Baena said, referring to the sex he had with his gym monitors.

Torres Baena is the first of the defendants to testify in the so-called “karate case.” Prosecutors are asking that he be sentenced to 303 years in jail on 36 counts of sexual abuse and 13 other crimes related to the corruption of minors.

They confronted the defendant, after he took the stand in his own defense, about certain key locations where his accusers had described the abuses as having taken place, including a small room with a bed and the third floor of the gym. The court filings include a host of complaints from 61 students describing anal and vaginal penetrations, fellatio, masturbation and other sexual acts, all of which Torres Baena has denied.

When you win tournaments, you celebrate in any way you can”

The room prosecutors described in court was where Torres Baena said he kept “gym equipment” and used on occasion “to scold” students because it was better to do so in private so as “not to humiliate them.” The entrance to this particular room was restricted, he added.

When asked if he felt that his karate kids felt humiliated by his scolding, the defendant replied: “One thing is what I do, and another is what others feel.” After the court filings were unsealed, Torres Baena recalled that he read them over and over for about eight hours a day and thought “this doesn’t make sense.”

The karate instructor was prolific in his answers, concentrating on what was being asked, and never breaking once to open the water bottle near him. But the challenging grins and smirks that were evident during the opening day of the trial were gone; the only gesture Torres Baena performed in the dock was to put on and take off his eyeglasses, which dangled on a ropechain.

Investigators, who say the abuse took place for at least 15 years before Torres Baena and others were arrested, say the defendants had organized a type of sexual sect at the karate school.

Trial prosecutor Pedro Jimeno cross-examined Torres Baena with tough, to-the-point questions.

“Did you have anal sex with the witness?” Jimeno asked about one boy’s version of events. Concerning a 14-year-old male, Torres Baena was again asked: “Did you make him touch your genitals?” And referring to a 16-year-old student: “Did you and him have mutual fellatio?”

Torres Baena denied all the charges.

“Why do you think they have said all these things about you?” the prosecutor asked.

“I will explain this in due course,” the defendant responded.

Torres Baena, 57, said he had the best karate school in Spain, and had planned on bringing internationally renowned teachers to his school.

He recognized almost all of the 61 names of students who filed complaints against him, and admitted that many would spend time with him and the gym monitors at his home in Agüimes, situated about an hour and a half outside Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

He said the mass gatherings took place before important competitions, but denied prosecutors’ contentions that these parties were actually orgies.

Torres Baena said he never tried to “sexually orient” any of his students. The entire case, he said, was part of a plot hatched by the Karate Federation in the Canaries to knock down his profitable business.

On Thursday, Torres Baena is expected to personally hear from one of his accusers. José María Palomino has agreed to take the stand on behalf of 60 of the 61 alleged victims.

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