3 Convicted in Argentine Adoption Trial

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- A court on Friday sentenced the adoptive parents of a baby born to a missing political prisoner to up to eight years in prison for concealing the child's identity, in a landmark case with roots in Argentina's dictatorship.

The court also handed down a sentence of 10 years to a former army captain accused of giving the couple the baby after the real parents were abducted by state security forces during the 1976-1983 military regime and never reappeared.

The case marked the first time a child of a dissident who disappeared during Argentina's "dirty war" had taken her adoptive parents to court. Human rights groups say more than 200 such children were taken from abducted mothers and given to military or politically connected families to raise. DNA tests have allowed some of them to identify their real parents.

The court sentenced Osvaldo Rivas and his former wife, Maria Cristina Gomez Pinto, to eight years and seven years in prison, respectively, for falsifying documents and concealing the identity of a minor. The former captain, Enrique Berthier, received 10 years.

Maria Eugenia Sampallo Barragan, who in 2001 learned she was the daughter of missing political prisoners Mirta Mable Barragan and Leonardo Ruben Sampall, sat impassively wearing thick black-rim glasses as the verdict was read.

There were gasps in the courtroom, which was packed with activists and friends.

Human rights groups, which provided legal counsel to the now-30-year-old plaintiff, protested that the accused should have received the maximum sentence - 25 years.

"We do not agree with the sentence," said Rosa de Roisinblit, the vice president of the human rights group the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. "In the United States and other countries, a stolen child is almost akin to murder, and here it's nothing."

Several Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who have identified 88 children of their "disappeared" sons and daughters through DNA tests, had sat in the court for daily closed-door sessions since trial began in February.

Sampallo's lawyer, Tomas Ojea Quintana, said he would appeal for longer prisoner terms for the three defendants.

None of the defendants' lawyers issued comments after the verdict.

Berthier's lawyer, Alejandro Maria Macedo Rumi, said during the trial there was no proof that Sampallo's parents were missing or disappeared. He added that the evidence against Berthier was given by "former terrorists" who had participated in leftist militant groups.

"It's all part of a conspiracy against the military," Macedo said.

The left-leaning coalition led by former president Nestor Kirchner and current President Cristina Fernandez has made human rights prosecutions of "dirty war" abuses a priority. Fernandez recently vowed to speed up scores of cases around the country.

Victor Enrique Valle, a lawyer for both Rivas and Pinto, said during the trial the adoptive parents "could have no way of knowing where their daughter came from."

In 2001, Sampallo's mother was six months pregnant when she and her father were abducted on Dec. 6, 1977, said Sampallo's lawyer. He said Sampallo was born in February 1978, while her mother was being held at a clandestine torture center.

There have been at least three earlier trials involving suspected illegal adoptions dating to the dictatorship that resulted in convictions - but the plaintiffs in those cases were not the adopted children.

On Monday, Sampallo held a news conference in which she held up black-and-white photographs of Rivas and Gomez Pinto and declared they never truly were her adoptive parents.

"These are not my parents," Sampallo said. "They are my kidnappers."

Then she held up a photo of her biological father and mother, two leftist activists who remain missing.

"These are my parents," she said


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