Romanians set to pardon baby couple

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The Independent Online
The British couple sentenced to 28 months in jail for trying to smuggle a baby out of Romania were yesterday delighted to learn they would almost certainly receive a presidential pardon.

Adrian and Bernadette Mooney, of Wokingham, Berkshire, were said to be highly relieved at the news. But according to Lord Bethell, a Conservative member of the House of Lords who has campaigned for clemency on their behalf, 'they won't believe it until they have set foot on the tarmac'.

The Mooneys were sentenced by a Bucharest court earlier this month after being found guilty of violating Romania's adoption and border laws. Their appeal is due to be heard on 9 November.

If their appeal fails, Romania's president, Ion Iliescu, has signalled he will grant a pardon. Traian Chebeleu, the president's spokesman, said yesterday Mr Iliescu was ready to consider a pardon on humanitarian grounds.

With Mr Iliescu due to visit Britain next week, many observers saw the statement as a clear attempt to ease possible strains in Anglo-Romanian relations. Although the Government denies active intervention, British diplomats and officials have been lobbying for a pardon.

'There is no doubt the sentence was far too harsh,' Lord Bethell said. 'I believe the couple had already suffered enough. '

The Mooneys were arrested on 6 July after a guard at the Hungarian border discovered a five-month-old baby girl on the floor of their car. The couple admitted paying a Romanian middle-man dollars US6,000 for the girl, the daughter of an unmarried teenage gypsy couple.

After spending just over a week in custody, the Mooneys, who legally adopted a Romanian girl three years ago, were released on bail pending the outcome of their trial.

The case is the first of its kind since Romania tightened adoption laws in 1991 in an attempt to clamp down on the trade in babies that flourished after the country's anti-Communist revolution in 1989.

According to most observers, the jail terms were intended to deter other childless Western couples who may have contemplated doing the same. Even in Romania, many viewed them as extremely severe.

'Did the Mooneys commit such an anti-Romanian act by paying dollars US6,000 -and risking jail - to give a Romanian child a fairytale life?' asked the editor of the mass circulation daily, Evenementul Zilei, in a recent front-page editorial. 'Of course not. Instead of punishment, I would shake their hands with emotion. As a human being and as a Romanian.'