Two US women who say they only wanted to adopt Egyptian children are now on trial for human trafficking. They had forged documents they were the biological mothers of the children they were adopting.
Last week, the two women were led into a Cairo courtroom in handcuffs, along with six other people. They stood in a big black cage in the courtroom, looking apprehensive amid the hubbub.
AdvertisementThe accused include the husbands of the two women, two doctors, a nun who ran an orphanage, and an Egyptian banker.
A year ago, Hagelof, a U.S. citizen who lives in Egypt with her husband, adopted a child from an orphanage run by the Coptic Christian Church, a religious minority in Egypt. She says no money changed hands.
Several months later, Luis Andros, a U.S. citizen who is originally from Greece, and his wife, Iris Botros, left their restaurant business in North Carolina for Egypt. Botros, who is originally from Egypt, visited another orphanage run by the church. She paid the orphanage about $4,600 for the twins -- partly for clothes and partly as a donation.
Both women wanted to take the children to the United States -- in Hagelof's case for a visit, but in Botros' case to begin a new life in Wake Forest, North Carolina. And that's where the trouble began.
The two women knew they were using forged documents to show they were the biological mothers of the children in question.
The US embassy officials became suspicious of the documents -- partly because the women seemed too old to be the mothers. Both Hagelof and Botros are in their mid- to late forties.
The embassy contacted Egyptian authorities, and both Hagelof and Botros -- along with their husbands -- were arrested soon afterward, as was a nun from a Coptic orphanage and a banker who allegedly helped Botros make contact with the nun. Also arrested were two doctors who had written the certificates for the three infants, all of whom are now at an orphanage not affiliated with the church.
Neither the U.S. Embassy nor the U.S. State Department will comment on the case, citing the ongoing trial.
Botros' husband, Andros, blames the embassy for their plight. Asked through the bars of the courtroom cage what had happened, he replied, "Well, our American Embassy, instead of helping the people, they put them in jail."
His wife interjected, insisting they would not get a fair trial. A few feet away, Suzanne Hagelof called out, "We want to tell our story," while her husband, Medhat, looked on, quiet and dejected. As reporters tried to talk to the defendants, a guard intervened, shouting "Sit down, sit down."
Adoption has long been illegal under Egyptian law as well as being forbidden under sharia, Muslim religious law. Fostering is legal but uncommon, Tim Lister and Mary Rogers reported for CNN.
It has become a high-profile issue since Suzanne Mubarak, wife of the president, embarked on a campaign to stamp out human trafficking.
"I came to realize what an insidious crime this was and how it was just really built on profit. On not only low morals, on no morals at all," she told CNN.
And that's how the prosecution seems to be framing this case, using a law passed last year that provides for tough penalties for human trafficking. Khalil Adil El Hamani, the attorney representing Hagelof, says Egyptian authorities want to prove that all the defendants are from one gang and are trafficking children, so as to make the case seem to be a giant conspiracy.