Is he a placement specialist or baby trader? Women cross borders, then abandon tots

Date: 1995-05-16

The Washington Times
Author: Chris Stephen; LONDON OBSERVER SERVICE

BUCHAREST, Romania - John Davies is the man Interpol and half the police forces of Eastern Europe suspect of violating international laws on adoption by selling babies to wealthy Americans from his base in Romania.

"We've had four national police authorities and three U.S. government departments investigating us over five years and nobody has ever been able to produce anything that we've done that is illegal," Mr. Davies says.

Last month it was the turn of the Croatian police to arrest Mr. Davies on suspicion of baby smuggling, only to drop charges for lack of evidence. Now he's back at his home in the remote Transylvanian town that has been his base for the past five years.

Mr. Davies is suspected of being one of a shadowy breed of entrepreneurs operating the East European baby trade.

In the West, demand for adoption has never been higher. In Eastern Europe, orphanages are jammed with unwanted children.

But matching the two has become a bureaucratic nightmare. For anyone offering a shortcut, the rewards can be high.

There are thousands of rich Western couples willing to pay thousands of dollars to have a child of their own.

Mr. Davies lives in a villa at one end of Miercurea-Ciuc, an ethnically Hungarian town set in Transylvania's rolling countryside. Police there are investigating allegations that he scours the surrounding area for unwanted babies, which are then shipped across the border into Hungary.

Once there the children are formally abandoned, making them candidates for adoption. Meanwhile, Mr. Davies has matched them to an American couple willing to pay large sums of money.

In 1993 Mr. Davies was investigated by Hungarian police after allegations that he supervised a group of 28 pregnant Romanian mothers who crossed the border, gave birth and then returned on their own. Investigators found the babies had already been matched to American families, and the U.S. government agreed to let the transaction go ahead in the interest of the children.

In Miercurea-Ciuc there are claims that Mr. Davies operates a system of foster mothers who are paid to look after the babies in the time it takes to match them with an American family.

"There are about 15 that I know of," said one woman, who claimed she was paid about $50 a month to look after two boys. She said Mr. Davies hired her on the spot, with no references, and she took the boys without having to sign any documents.

In Miercurea-Ciuc, the tall, rotund Briton with a strong London accent is a well-known figure. "Everyone has heard of Davies," says an official at the orphanage. "They know an unwanted baby, they can go to him."

The authorities in Miercurea-Ciuc are investigating a second operation in which nine Gypsy women crossed the border with medical certificates saying their children needed special attention at the hospital in the Hungarian town of Szeged. The nine babies were abandoned, and once again could be legally adopted.

"There were not nine Gypsy women who went to Szeged - there were something like 78, of whom 52 children and their mothers returned to Romania," says a defiant Mr. Davies. "It was a medical-aid program."

Mr. Davies does not deny his adoptions. He is proud of them.

"We have given adoption recommendations in the cases of 110 children. But we don't make a profit. It costs less than $1,000 cash. We do not profit from child placement."

His Children's Foundation, registered in Romania as a charity based in Kansas, campaigns on behalf of women and children in Eastern Europe, he says. "The main focus of our work has always been victims of society - abused women and neglected children."

Mr. Davies got into the aid business in Romania 10 years ago, when it was still under the grip of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Before that, he had worked across Europe with various aid organizations, having trained as a child psychologist.

After the 1989 revolution, he shifted gears, setting up aid groups in the Transylvanian town of Brasov. Grateful town officials publicly thanked him for delivering AIDS-testing equipment to the children's hospital. Then he moved north, to settle with his wife and four British-born children in a plush villa in Miercurea-Ciuc.

Mr. Davies works at the foundation, while his wife, Catherine, teaches the children. Police think he has other reasons. Mierurea-Ciuc is the center for Romania's ethnic Hungarian community, giving him good connections with routes for children into Hungary proper.

Relations between Romania's Hungarians and the nationalist government are frosty, hampering efforts by the police to investigate Mr. Davies. The police, who have a 200-page file on his work, admit they cannot prove Mr. Davies has broken any law.

"Asking pregnant women to go abroad to give birth is not illegal," said one officer.

Mr. Davies sees his work as altruistic. "Does a kid spend 18 years in an orphanage or do we get these kids a permanent family? We get a small amount of support that pays our bills from foundations in North America. If there was real money in this, don't you think there would be 100 people doing this?"

Stung by criticism that it was an easy touch, Romania enacted tough new adoption laws in 1992. But the rules remain confused: A national adoption committee is supposed to oversee all adoptions, which must include a six-month period in which the natural parents can change their minds.

But according to Mary Tucker, head of the American adoption agency Holt, chaos remains. She says judges can sign release documents even though the committee was not involved in a case.

"There's a power struggle between the adoption committee and the judges," she said. Adoption cases can drag on for more than a year, causing a logjam.

The willingness of some Westerners to use desperate methods was shown last year when a British couple, Adrian and Bernadette Mooney, were given suspended sentences of two years by Romania after they bought a baby for $6,300 and tried to smuggle her out of the country under a blanket in their car.

"It's not a bottleneck; it's a blockage," said one Western diplomat in Bucharest. "One of the things we hoped to get from the Mooney case was to break this. But nothing happened."

Instead, the demand for babies and the loopholes in the law mean they are still traded like commodities, with richer couples often outbidding those trying to go through the legal channels.

Some Romanians, like Vlad Radu, who once translated for adoptive couples, say the rich do a humanitarian service.

"If the baby goes abroad to a rich family, it will probably have a good life. If it stays here to grow up in an orphanage, what sort of life is that?"

Miss Tucker does not share the feeling. "Who knows who will end up with such babies? There are no checks. It is not like going to buy a dog from a pound, where you just pick it up and that's that."

Dr. Georgheta Urdea, director of Brasov's orphanage, agrees.

"This place used to be like a zoo," she said. "Tourists would visit the ski slopes, the church, and then come and see the children. If adoption is not regulated, you don't know who takes the children or why. The official way is the best way."

* Distributed by Scripps Howard.

Caption:
Photo, An American woman holds her newly adopted baby in Bucharest, Romania, where she had difficulty getting a visa at the U.S. Consulate. Many Americans have been turning to Eastern Europe to find babies to adopt., By AP

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