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SPAIN'S STOLEN CHILDREN

Witnesses deny any knowledge of babies allegedly stolen from clinic

Former director of Santa Cristina maternity unit defiant over investigation

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José Zamarriego, outside the Madrid courthouse where he declared as a witness on Tuesday.

The former director of the Santa Cristina maternity clinic and a doctor under his charge testified in a Madrid court on Tuesday in an ongoing investigation into an alleged baby-snatching ring active in the 1980s.

The scandal broke in April when Sister María Gómez Valbuena, the only person so far to be directly accused of involvement in the ring, was provisionally charged with kidnapping and falsifying documents. Sister María refused to speak to the court during her appearance earlier this year and left hurriedly amid insults and accusations from a crowd outside. On Tuesday a similar atmosphere greeted José Zamarriego, who was in control of Santa Cristina in 1982 when a baby, Pilar Alcalde, disappeared from the center.

Responding to the judge investigating the alleged case of baby-snatching, Zamarriego claimed that he barely knew Sister María and that he had not thoroughly checked all the pertinent documentation at the time because he trusted his subordinates. “He said he had only met her twice,” commented a lawyer acting for María Luisa Torres, the woman who launched the complaint and whose daughter, Alcalde, is at the center of the case. Torres and Alcalde were reunited last year.

“Everything I had to say, and I have said a lot, I have said to the judge,” Zamarriego told reporters outside the court. “I will tell you nothing! Of course I am innocent! And don’t grab my jacket, or things might get nasty.”

In a related case, Sister María is accused of stealing a baby from the La Paz hospital in 1980

Also on the stand was Ignacio Villa Elizaga, who was called as a witness in his capacity as head of neonatology at the clinic when the alleged incidents occurred. Although Elizaga was able to produce documentation showing he was not in that post at the time — he was a professor of medicine and not in Madrid — his signature appears on the paperwork provided by the plaintiff. “What appears to have happened is that nobody changed the letterhead when he left Santa Cristina and so he continued to figure as head of neonatology when he was not. Now we are trying to determine who occupied the post at that time,” said Torres’ lawyer.

Elizaga was also accosted outside the courtroom by a group of women who claim their babies were also stolen. “Thief! You stole my daughter! Where is she, you swine?” shouted one. Elizaga, with a police escort, rounded on one of the group before fleeing in a taxi: “Shut up or I’ll thump you!” he exclaimed.

Carmen Muñoz, a former worker at the Civil Registry, also gave evidence on Tuesday. In 2002, Muñoz issued Alcalde’s birth certificate when the young woman asked for it. “I haven’t got anything to do with this matter. I wasn’t there at that time,” she told reporters.

The SOS Stolen Babies association is eagerly awaiting Thursday’s session, when members of the Spanish Agency for Adoption Protection are due to appear. Some 1,500 families across Spain have reported a stolen child. Several Madrid families claim their newborns were stolen by Sister María during the 1980s and sold on to other families.

Another nun, 97-year-old Sister Juana Alonso of the Daughters of Mercy in Tenerife, has also been accused of illegally putting up a girl for adoption in 1962.

In a related case, Sister María is accused of stealing a baby from the La Paz hospital in 1980. Her signature appears on documents relating to the child’s 1981 adoption and various invoices sent to the adoptive parents.