A former firefighter and a circus performer have been sentenced to two years in prison by a Paris judge for scamming couples trying to adopt impoverished children from Sudan, The Guardian reports.
According to the paper, French couple Eric Bréteau and Emilie Lelouch tried to smuggle out of Chad 103 children, 85 percent of whom still had parents living in the African nation.
Part of the scam reportedly involved a bogus charity set up by the couple – called Arche de Zoe – that the pair used to try to smuggle children out of Africa. They even reportedly created fake wounds on the children that they covered with bandages to make authorities believe the kids were especially ill and in need of new homes.
As the couple was intercepted by authorities in 2007 as they attempted to board a flight to France from Chad, the prospective adoptive parents were eagerly waiting at an airport in France with warm clothes, expecting to offer their new children a great future with their families, the Guardian reports.
Bréteau and Lelouch did not initially appear at their own trial, preferring to stay at their guest house in South Africa until they finally showed up for sentencing.
According to The Guardian, the couple was arrested by police in Chad, and they had already been given a sentence by Chad’s courts: eight years of forced labor. However, the president of Chad granted Bréteau and Lelouch a pardon before transferring them to a French jail in order for the trial to commence in France, the report shows.
This incident has embarrassed France and has been described as “surrealist from the start” by a nurse speaking to The Guardian. There is even a movie slated to be based on the saga of the criminal charity workers.
While the report states that the children involved are not psychologically traumatized or physically hurt by the incident, they still desperately are “wanting to go home,” one nurse said to the Guardian.
The report states that Bréteau, who first set up the charity in question to assist tsunami victims in 2005, was described by a nurse in court as an “all-powerful manipulator playing on the [adoptive] families’ desires for children.”
There are four other defendants in the case, including three charity workers and a journalist who have been given delayed sentences, with one defense lawyer arguing they had been “blinded by kind sentiment.”
Bréteau and Lelouch are expected to appeal.