Thursday, September 19, 2002

French court convicts large paedophile ring

MELUN, France — A French court handed out sentences of between four and 15 years on Thursday to 10 people accused of running the largest paedophile ring ever uncovered in France.

After 11 hours of deliberations lasting late into the night, the court convicted the nine French and one German defendants of raping and sexually abusing scores of children in the 1990s.

Chief prosecutor Yves Jannier, describing the defendants as "primates," had asked for ringleader Michel Albenque to be sentenced to 18 years in prison, and for other defendants to get more than five years.

Albenque, 49, received the stiffest sentence of 15 years. He apologised to his victims in the court in Melun, on the outskirts of Paris, saying he was ashamed of what he did.

"I ask for the forgiveness of all my victims. I regret the suffering I cased these boys. Paedophilia is an unequal battle between a child and an adult. I sullied these boys," he said, according to the daily newspaper Le Parisien.

The men — whose professions include salesman, laboratory technician, gardener, dog handler and translator — lured scores of children into sex sessions by offering to play cards or take them on trips to Paris or the seaside.

Albenque sought out victims by approaching parents who were unemployed or poorly paid and offering them gifts and money while pretending to be teachers interested in helping their children, according to the charges.

Police have identified at least 20 victims since receiving the first complaint about the group in 1996, authorities say.

A lawyer for one of the accused had argued the minors gave consent in what he described as "games of seduction." At least some of the minors involved were at the time under 15, the age at which French law recognises consent to sexual relations.

A further suspect fled before the trial and was being sought by police.

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Created: September 20, 2002
Last modified: September 21, 2002
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