Priests and a judge in child-sex scandal

ELIZABETH NASH

Madrid

Three priests, a marquis, a university professor, a policeman, a juvenile court judge and a retired flamenco dancer. This collection, together with 50 other people, have one thing in common: embroilment in a scandal involving a homosexual child prostitution ring in the southern Spanish city of Seville. Two men, a comedian and a singer, were bailed for 2m pesetas (pounds 10,000) this week on suspicion of corrupting minors in the case.

After months of investigating the goings on at the Arny gay bar, in Seville, Judge Maria Auxiliadora Echavarri recently lifted the ban on reporting that she had formerly imposed.

But she withheld the names of the witnesses, more than 20 boys some as young as 14, for their protection. They are identified only by number.

The scandal emerged when a young victim who did not receive promised payment tipped off the authorities more than a year ago that under-age boys were subjected to sexual abuse by prosperous dignitaries who frequented the Arny bar. One of the witnesses - known by the pseudonym "Eduardo" - said in a radio interview in January that he had been offered clothes, money, drinks, travel and cocaine in exchange for sexual favours.

The decision to conceal the identity of the accusers was denounced by defence lawyers as recalling the worst traditions of the Inquisition.

They learnt details of the accusations only by wading through 16 fat volumes of anonymous testimony, a labour that the Justice Ministry eased somewhat at the weekend by renting for them an industrial photocopier.

The chief evidence against the singer Javier Gurruchaga was his apparent request by telephone from a Seville hotel to the Arny for a "morito" (an Arab boy) to be sent to him. The police had tapped his call. Others, including the comedian Jorge Cadaval, are implicated on the evidence of young victims and in some cases photographs taken in the Arny by policemen posing as potential clients.

Judge Manuel Rico Lara, who presided over Seville's juvenile court, was suspended from his functions and bailed for 1m pesetas in January after one boy testified to having had a sexual relationship with him. The judge declared his innocence and claimed he had been a victim of mistaken identity.

The Arny was closed last October and its owner, Carlos Saldana, jailed on charges of promoting under-age prostitution. One of the establishment's highlights was Friday-night bingo with a naked boy in a private cubicle as the top prize. The youths were mostly Spaniards but included some from elsewhere in Europe and Morocco.

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