Baby smuggling trial delayed

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The Independent Online
THE BRITISH couple accused of trying to smuggle a baby out of Romania face 12 more days in legal limbo after a Bucharest judge yesterday ordered an immediate adjournment on the opening day of their trial.

Adrian and Bernadette Mooney of Wokingham, Berkshire, showed no emotion as Judge Rodica Popa said that the trial could not proceed until a lawyer had been found for the 17-year- old gypsy parents from whom the couple allegedly bought a five- month-old girl.

Judge Popa originally proposed postponing the trial until 21 September, but after a sharp protest from the Mooneys' lawyer, Ioana Floca, the date was set for 14 September.

'Bearing in mind that my clients are foreigners . . . I would ask for as short a term (of delay) as possible,' said Ms Floca. 'They are in a difficult situation . . . they have a small child . . . a longer delay would cause them moral and material difficulties.'

The Mooneys, who already have one legally adopted Romanian daughter, have been barred from leaving the country since 6 July, when they were arrested on the Hungarian border with a baby girl concealed in a basket. Romanian prosecutors allege that the couple paid dollars 6,000 for the girl, dollars 1,200 of which went to her natural parents, Florin Baiaram and Florina Dimir.

In court yesterday, Ms Dimir and her partner were unable to answer questions, leaving most of the talking to the man's father, Nicolae, who said his son was mentally handicapped.

In addition to the gypsy couple, the Mooneys were joined in the dock by Ioan Batrana, the man accused of having master- minded the deal, and two accomplices.

The trial of the Mooneys is the first involving foreigners accused of illegally trying to smuggle a baby out of the country for adoption. If found guilty, the couple could face jail terms of up to five years, although observers believe any sentences would be suspended.

Emil Dinu, the chief prosecutor in the case, said at least four other British couples have succeeded in taking babies out of the country illegally since Romania tightened its adoption laws in 1991. Before that, thousands of babies were adopted by childless Western couples.

'It is no exaggeration to speak of a British connection in child trafficking,' Mr Dinu said earlier this week. 'We are determined to shed light on this activity. And the Mooneys' trial should serve as a warning to other families planning to adopt Romanian children against the law.'

(Photograph omitted)