-ELEVEN Irish families quizzed in Mexico over adoption ‘racket’
-Mother, 21, tried to sell baby for one thousand euros
-Seven Mexican babies have been seized from Irish couples after police in Guadalajara smashed an international child- smuggling ring
-Officials said the couples believed they were following proper adoption channels but that the babies were actually being sold by their mothers
By SHEILA FLYNN and GERARD COUZENS
15th January 2012
Seven Mexican babies have been seized from Irish couples after police in Guadalajara smashed an international child- smuggling ring.
Officials said the couples believed they were following proper adoption channels but that the babies were actually being sold by their mothers. Up to 11 Irish families were being questioned this weekend in connection with the scam, centred in the Guadalajara region of central Mexico, where four local women have been arrested.
On display: The three Mexican women held this week over the allegations
The Irish couples, all of whom remained unnamed yesterday, were shocked and heartbroken to be told of the scam and to have to return the infants.
‘Some of them had the babies we’ve rescued with them because they were told that living with them was part of the process they needed to go through to adopt these youngsters,’ State Attorney Tomas Coronado Olmos said.
‘We have rescued nine babies in total, boys and girls. Two were removed from one of the women we arrested and another seven from the custody of foreign couples.
‘They are currently in state care,’ Mr Coronado Olmos added.
‘One is two years old and the rest are aged between two and eight months.’
Photo: Local DPP Tomás Coronado Olmos
Officials are thought to have uncovered the scam after arresting a 21-year-old Mexican woman in the town of Zapopan, about 10km northeast of Guadalajara, as she allegedly tried to sell one of her children for €1,000. The woman’s sister-in-law is thought to have reported her to the authorities.
Three Mexican women, all aged in their early 30s, were subsequently arrested on suspicion of belonging to a child-trafficking gang.
They are suspected of using newspaper advertisements to find expectant mothers who did not want to keep their babies – then buying the infants from the women and handing them over to wealthy foreign couples who travelled to Mexico seeking to adopt.
The Irish couples were reportedly given the babies at a hotel in Guadalajara and sent to the nearby town of Ajijic, a popular retirement destination for Canadian and American expats, to spend a fortnight with the babies while adoption papers were processed.
The processing was done in the neighbouring state of Colima. It is not clear whether suspected gang members intended faking documents or had corrupt local officials in their pay.
The birth mothers are said to have been paid €70 a week plus medical expenses while they were pregnant.
One local paper reported that after the mothers gave birth, the child-trafficking suspects got them to sign a contract permitting them to ‘hire’ their babies for €30 a day over a fortnight for use in photoshoots for publicity contracts.
Instead, the babies were handed over to the foreign couples and the birth mothers were given a copy of the contract, which they used to justify their babies’ absence to friends and neighbours. Mexican authorities said the Guadalajara-based firm Lopez & Lopez Associates was involved in drawing up those contracts. It is not clear whether the mothers knew their babies would be given up permanently or whether they expected them back after the fortnight.
Mexican lawyer Carlos Lopez has been arranging private adoptions in Mexico for Irish couples for at least seven years. He has been pictured in albums with other families who travelled from Ireland to adopt and is listed on various adoption websites. When the Irish Mail on Sunday called a number for his office, the number did not exist.
Local sources said Lopez was facing child-trafficking charges and was now on the run. Officials have not ruled out further arrests.
Investigators believe the prospective new parents were sent to Ajijic so they could blend in with the thousands of foreigners who have made the popular holiday town, on the shores of Lake Chapala, their home.
Irish couples have been travelling to the resort town for years, mainly staying in the gated communities of La Floresta and El Parque. One woman, who has helped to arranged accommodation for Irish families in the past, said they stay anywhere from three to eight months to comply with Mexican government guidelines on adoption. ‘The women stay and the husbands often go back to Ireland to work,’ she said.
As the arrests and investigation unfolded during the past few days, Ireland’s Adoption Authority issued a release on Thursday about intercountry adoptions involving Mexico. The Mexican authorities stated that all documentation must be sent by the ‘Adoption Authority of Ireland, or a body accredited by the AAI, to the Federal Central Authority’ – as per the Mexican notice on the Hague Convention website.
The release also pointed out that Irish visa applicants must clearly state the actual purpose of their visit to Mexico and prospective adoptive parents need to obtain an adoption visa.
‘While some individual States within the Federal United States of Mexico may allow for private domestic adoptions outside public entities, there is no provision for private adoptions in the context of intercountry adoption,’ the release said.
‘No children under five years of age should be proposed for intercountry adoption, the only exceptions being children with special needs or sibling groups.
‘On the basis of the foregoing, prospective adoptive parents should not enter into any private arrangements with private individuals or private agencies.’
Previous adoptions advertised by Lopez – resulting in adoptions by Irish couples – had been described as ‘private’.
A new life: The resort of Ajijic on Lake Chapala, where the Irish couples were told to go Ajijic hotel owner Steve Cross, originally from Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, says he has been in regular contact over the years with adoptive parents who have travelled to the area from Ireland.
‘This ran very smoothly until about eight months ago,’ he said. ‘One of the problems was that a social worker in Guadalajara – about 45 minutes from here – was telling the birth mothers just to sign up for the adoption process because the Irish couple would pay all their medical bills but then you could change your mind at the end.’ He said he hadn’t been aware of the current scam involving the 11 couples but he did know of continuing problems and changes within the adoptive process. ‘I know there’s one couple here at the minute who said they were given the all-clear to adopt – and then when they got to Mexico, the first email they opened was: “Don’t go to Mexico any more; it’s closed to adoptions.”’
Claire McGettrick of the Adoption Rights Alliance said: ‘We have always urged caution with inter-country adoption. However, unwittingly couples become part of such scams. We strongly urge child sponsorship programmes rather than adoption.
‘Intercountry adoption is really seen as a last resort after all other avenues have been explored.
‘There is a lot of money involved and this can lead to corruption.
‘If it is for the sake of the children, couples should look into fostering. There are so many kids in need of loving foster homes.
‘We come across this kind of thing regularly. Guatemala, for example, is riddled with corruption.
‘People need to take a stand but we have a long way to go.
‘This was a near miss for the children and families involved.’
A spokesman from the Department of Foreign Affairs said: ‘Our embassy in Mexico is aware of the reports and is in contact with a representative from the group and a lawyer representing the group.
‘The embassy has requested details surrounding the circumstances of the case from the Mexican authorities.