The incredible story of Edmond Mulet and the children he "exported"
November 1981. A police detective squad bursts into suite number 338 of the luxurious Camino Real...
November 1981. A police detective squad bursts into suite number 338 of the luxurious Camino Real Hotel in Guatemala City. They’re dressed in plain clothes. They arrest four Canadian women who are about to take five Guatemalan children back to their home country. One of the women arrested was going to adopt a new born baby. Another was going to adopt a three year old boy and was also going to take a 20-day-old baby with her to be adopted by a Canadian couple. The other two women had the same intentions: each of them were going to take a baby back to adoptive parents in their home country. The Police takes the children to the Elisa Martínez national orphanage while it investigates what it believes to be a child trafficking ring. On November 24th, at 10 am, the Police arrests Edmond Auguste Mulet Lesieur in his office. Mulet is the lawyer and notary who arranged the adoptions (although in his statement, he claimed that he turned himself in to the police).
Edmond Mulet belongs to a family that has produced a number of high profile journalists and diplomats. Today, he is one of the most highly respected and admired figures in Guatmalan society. In 2013, he was awarded the Doctor Mariano Gálvez Order by the university of the same name that he graduated from and in 2011, Prensa Libre newspaper named him “Person of the Year”. Mulet, 63, speaks slowly and clearly and is a man of delicate manners who won a seat in Congress on three occasions, served as President of Congress, Guatemalan ambassador to the United States and the European Union and also served as director of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. Since he was appointed UN Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations in 2007, he has become the highest-ranking Guatemalan diplomat in the UN.
However, in 1981, Mulet was a young lawyer, in his thirties, who was launching his career in politics and intended to run for a seat in Congress as a National Party for Renovation (Partido Nacional Renovador, PNR) candidate in the forthcoming congressional elections. He was also part of an international adoption ring called Les Enfants du Soleil/The Children of the Sun.
A few years earlier, in 1977, a change in Guatemalan law made it possible for adoption proceedings to be carried out by a notary. As a result, from the early 80s onwards, the adoption industry began to take off and became a highly profitable.
As Guatemala gained a reputation for being a country where it was easy to adopt a child, the demand for Guatemalan children grew in Europe, the United States and Canada. The sums that adoptive parents were willing to pay for a Guatemalan child also began to increase. The fact that 50% of the Guatemalan population lived below the poverty line and that the armed conflict had left thousands of orphans and vulnerable infants created the ideal conditions for the adoption business to flourish. Lawyers were eager to get their hands on the business.
Over the next few years, a number of adoption rings that infiltrated the state were created.
In the Secretariat for Social Welfare in order to procure children from public orphanages.
In the family courts where it was decreed that these children had been “abandoned” without asking any questions.
In the General Directorate for Migration that allowed them to leave the country without the necessary documents.
In the Public Procurator’s Office that ensured adoption requests were processed speedily.
In the Civil Registry Office that gave children who had been stolen from their biological parents new identity papers…
But at this point, we were at the beginning of it all and on November 24th 1981, Edmond Mulet was in a difficult predicament: he was detained in the sixth division of the now extinct National Police and he was being interrogated by a detective that accused him of creating “a child export ring”.
Adoptions? What adoptions?
Among the documents that caught the detective’s attention were five passport application forms that had been filled out on behalf of children and had been signed by Mulet. In the box that said “reason for traveling”, Mulet had written “tourism”. The address provided for all of these infants was the address of his office.
The Canadian families had signed a power of attorney naming Mulet as their legal representative in Guatemala in charge of processing the adoption applications.
In 1981, for an adoption to be legal, it was necessary to comply with three requirements: a report submitted by a social worker from the Juvenile Court indicating that the couple that wished to adopt the child was suitable, a favorable decree from the Public Procurator’s Office (PGN) and two witnesses – anyone could be used as a witness – who could testify that the people who wished to adopt were “decent and honorable”. Once these documents had been presented, a lawyer wrote up the adoption papers in front of the child’s biological and adoptive parents. The migration authorities would then issue a passport with the child’s new name.
These proceedings used to last approximately a year. But instead of following them, Mulet decided to take a shortcut. He simply wrote up three documents for every child. One in which the child’s biological parents consented to the adoption under Canadian law, another in which they gave their children’s custody to an organization called Niños del Sol (Children of the Sun) and another in which they requested the migration authorities to allow the child to travel to Canada.
Mulet took these documents to the Migration Bureau and filled out applications for passports to be issued for the newborn “tourists”, thus circumventing the proper legal process, which entailed mild efforts made by the Public Procurator’s Office, the Civil Registry Office and the Family Court to verify the suitability of the adoptive parents.
The method he used was unusually fast: only two to three months after the children were born – in September and October 1981 – their adoptive mothers had already travelled to Guatemala to collect them.
In 1981, according to the police report, Mulet told the detective that he “considered it unnecessary for the Family Courts or the Attorney General’s Office or the children’s parents to get involved in the issue of where the child would end up”.
In fact, he said that he had already used the same procedure to send other children abroad.
The Children of the Sun
Judge Carlos Antonio Albúrez Roca, of the Fifth Penal Court, was assigned the investigation opened by the police. He interrogated the lawyer, the Canadian women and the children’s biological mothers. The workings of The Children of the Sun gradually began to unfold before his eyes.
The association created in Canada under the name Les Enfants du Soleil by lawyer Jean Francoeur described itself as “an information center on international adoption issues”. What it really did was help Canadian families to put together the necessary documents and refer them to Edmond Mulet, who, in theory would make all the necessary arrangements in Guatemala.
Jean Francoeur’s wife, Lise Francoeur, would even accompany adoptive parents to Guatemala or would go and fetch the children for them in case they couldn’t travel or were unwilling to do so. Lise Francoeur and her mother, Simone Bédard, were two of the women arrested in the Camino Real hotel during the November 1981 police raid. They were both about to take Guatemalan babies back to Canada where their adoptive parents awaited them.
Judge Albúrez Roca understood that he had uncovered a structured adoption ring. The questions he asked the biological mothers of the five children found in the Camino Real hotel sought to establish who had persuaded them to give their children up for adoption. And he discovered that all of them had been recruited by the same person: Ofelia Rosal de Gamas.
Rosal de Gamas was the “scout” or jaladora, the person in charge of seeking women who were willing to give their children up for adoption. Dictator Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores, who ruled the country from 1983 to 1985, was her brother-in-law and under his regime she was placed in charge of the state-run Rafael Ayau orphanage. In 1987, the police would acuse her of being in charge of another adoption ring that held 24 children aged between one month and two years.
Evelia R. was one of the biological mothers arrested in 1981. She worked at a beauty salon and earned Q80 per month (today’s equivalent of Q1,700), which was not enough to support a family. The judge asked her how she had met the scout. Evelia answered that during her pregnancy she had met Rosal de Gamas in the market and that she had asked her straight away if she would be able to support the baby she was expecting. They met on several occasions – sometimes Ofelia Rosal gave her bread or tortillas – and one day the scout suggested that she should give the baby up for adoption to someone who had the means to support it. “That’s how it all started”, said Evelia.
Delia D., another mother, earned Q45 a month as a housemaid (the equivalent of less than Q1,000). She was pregnant and desperate. The baby’s father was unwilling to recognize the child and she was afraid that her employers would sack her if they found out she was expecting a baby. She was walking dejectedly around Guatemala City’s Central Square when someone came up to her and asked her about her baby. When she said it was an unwanted pregnancy, the person told her about Ofelia Rosal. When Delia D. met the scout, she showed her pictures of adopted children “who looked well”. That’s how Ofelia Rosal persuaded her to hand the child over to her as soon as she gave birth. She did so two days after the baby was born.
Apart from the fact that they were all poor and that they had all been contacted by Ofelia Rosal de Gamas, there was another key fact that all of these Guatemalan women had in common: the place where their children were born. Three of the biological mothers, Aura R., Gladys C. and Evelia R., gave birth in a house in Guatemala City’s zone 12 that was owned by the midwife, Hilda Álvarez Leal. Their statements were identical: Three of the biological mothers: Aura R., Gladys C. and Evelia R. gave birth there. After giving birth, Ofelia Rosal or her son, Frank Gamas, would take the mothers to Edmond Mulet’s law firm to sign the documents.
According to a neighbor, the midwife, Hilda Álvarez Leal, died “roughly thirty years ago”. In 2013, one of Ofelia Rosal de Gamas’ relatives said she was alive but was unconscious after suffering a brain hemorrhage. Ofelia’s son, Frank Gamas, refused to speak to Plaza Pública about his mother’s past. Two years later, a relative told Plaza Pública that Ofelia Gamas had died.
In 2011, Plaza Pública managed to locate two of the biological mothers. One of them denied giving up her child for adoption. The family of the second woman asked us to come back the following day. When we returned, they told us, after asking us a number of questions, that she had recently emigrated to the United States and that they had no way of contacting her. She must be in her sixties.
“I thought it was all legal”
Diane W., one of the Canadian women who were arrested in November 1981, was a 36-year-old nurse, she was married and was unable to have children. The couple had met Jean Francoeur through a friend whom they had talked to regarding their desire to have a child. The couple contacted Francoeur, who put them in touch with the Enfants du Soleil/Children of the Sun association and recommended Edmond Mulet’s services in Guatemala.
In order to begin the adoption proceedings, Diane W. and her husband sent Francoeur a huge folder containing a number of documents including their bank statements, a health certificate, an infertility certificate as well as a report written by a Canadian social worker.
In a hand-written letter supposedly addressed to “the adoption authorities”, the couple stated that they were “amorous, close, happy and financially stable”. They also stated that they desired to have a child that they could bring up in “a loving, warm, safe and generous environment”. The association required them to fill out a number of forms in which they chose the number of children they wanted as well as their age and sex. There was even a box they could tick that read “as young as possible”. The couple chose a boy and a girl under four. Les Enfants du Soleil had also made them sign a power of attorney granting Edmond Mulet the power to act as their their legal representative in Guatemala and carry out the adoption proceedings.
Diane W. told Judge Guerra Figueroa that in early 1981, Mulet had a message delivered to them that he had a baby ready for them and that the adoption proceedings were complete. Everything was ready.
Monique M., who was also among the Canadian women arrested in 1981 in the Camino Real Hotel, as well as three Canadian couples, also received a phone call from Francoeur, roughly on the same date: their child and the necessary documents were ready.
As the other three couples were unable to travel to Guatemala due to work commitments, the following arrangments were made: Lise Francoeur, as the legal representative of The Children of the Sun, and her mother, Simone Bédard, would be responsible for two of the children that would be adopted by two of the couples that were unable to travel. Monique M. would be in charge of her own adopted child as well as second child, for the third couple that couldn’t travel. Diane W. would take her own adoptive child.
When they were questioned by Judge Albúrez Roca, one of the Canadians, Monique M., was surprised to learn that Edmond Mulet hadn’t completed the necessary proceedings. “I thought it was all legal”, she said. “That’s why I hired a lawyer, Mr Mulet, as we were acting in good faith and out of a desire to help children in need”.
Both Monique M. and Diane W. were unaware of the fact that the children they were taking to Canada were not legally theirs due to the fact that the documents drawn up by Mulet were not valid. That was the conclusion reached by Judge Ramiro Guerra Figueroa, of the Eighth Criminal Court of First Instance, who took on the case after Judge Albúrez Roca. Judge Guerra Figueroa, now deceased, dropped the charges faced by the Canadian women and allowed them to walk free on December 7th, after they had spent 15 days in prison. The children’s biological mothers were also allowed to walk free.
“His political connections secured his release”
Edmond Mulet was kept in isolation on November 25th. The following day, while he was still in prison, he protested his innocence on TV. He said that it had all been a political farce that aimed to tarnish his image and that of the PNR party, of which he was a member. He then accused the police of psychological torture. He ended his speech by exclaiming: “Long live intelligence! Down with violence!”
On the same day, the PNR closed ranks behind Mulet. Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, who was running for president as the Christian Democrat-PNR coalition’s candidate, said that the accusations against Mulet were part of a “dark plot” to destroy the movement. Maldonado Aguirre was one of the Constitutional Court magistrates who voted to annul the sentence given to former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt in 2013.
Meanwhile, Mulet was trying to recover his freedom and to ensure that the charges were dropped. He claimed that as a Congressional candidate he had the right to immunity from prosecution. What he didn’t know was that the PNR had not registered its candidates yet with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).
To this day, Mulet still repeats the same story: he claims that his arrest was a political maneuver orchestrated by the police. It was a reprisal, he says, for condemning police brutality during the assault on the Spanish embassy in which 37 peasant leaders, students and Spanish citizens were murdered. “I was the only person who spoke out about the assault and against Donaldo Álvarez, Germán Chupina Barahona, President Lucas García, and Pedro García Arredondo. That got me into a lot of trouble. I had friends in the government and in the army that told me to leave the country because I had been blacklisted by the regime”, he says. According to Inforpress Centroamericana, Mulet said that the accusations against the Spanish ambassador, Máximo Cajal, were irresponsible and had no grounds whatsoever.
But dates do not match. The assault on the Spanish embassy occurred almost two years earlier, on January 31st 1980.
On December 7th, Mulet and the Canadian women walked free. “What I am sure of”, says Mulet, today, “is that the judge concluded, at the end of the investigation, that everything was legal”. That’s why, he added, the Canadian women “were able to leave Guatemala and go home, with their visas and all the necessary paperwork, to spend Christmas with their children”.
That’s not exactly what happened.
The Canadian women did return home in late December but they left without the children they wished to adopt. One of the women says the children spent an entire year in the Elisa Martínez orphanage until the adoption proceedures were complete. This time they did everything according to the law and without Mulet’s intervention. It was a harrowing time for the adoptive mothers, she said, especially as they realized, once they were finally re-united with the children, that they were suffering from a number of ailments. The time spent in the orphanage had left one of them suffering from polio.
Mulet’s version also omits the fact that Judge Ramiro Guerra Figueroa did find enough evidence to open a trial against him for malicious representation, which means he knowingly acted against his clients’ interests, in this case the Canadian women who wished to adopt the children. Mulet was charged but was provisionally set free as it was a minor offense under Guatemalan law.
But Mulet never stood trial.
The Fourth Court of Appeals declared that the documents presented by the previous court were “extremely imprecise” and therefore invalid. Although Judge Guerra Figueroa tried to re-open the case, on May 10 1982, when Ríos Montt was already in power, the court decreed that “there were insufficient reasons to begin a trial”.
A police document dated June 1984, found in the Historical Archive of the National Police, indicates that in 1981 Mulet “was set free as a result of political pressure”.
Nevertheless, the truth is that in those days, under Guatemalan law, it was practically impossible to prosecute lawyers who carried out fraudulent adoption proceedings or to prosecute children trafficking rings. At the time, there were no legal means of prosecuting each of the people involved in a child trafficking ring, as the police referred to these structures. For instance, a lawyer who faked an adoption couldn’t be prosecuted as someone who was acting as part of a criminal network. He or she was simply considered to be a lawyer acting in an unethical manner that had committed a minor offence or had broken the notaries’ code of ethics. There was no way of prosecuting the chain of command of all the members of the network as a whole, each individual had to be prosecuted separately.
Added to this, in those days, under Guatemalan law, people trafficking exclusively meant trafficking women for commercial sexual exploitation. Carrying out fraudulent adoptions didn’t become a type of people trafficking and a punishable offense under Guatemalan law until the Penal Crime was reformed in 2005. Since then, Guatemala has ratified a number of international conventions, mostly as a result of pressure exerted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).
In 2011, Plaza Pública was able to access a number of documents from the Secretariat for Social Welfare (SBS) that were held in the Peace Archives and that show that the Children of the Sun association also operated in countries such as Honduras, El Salvador and Colombia. Added to this, the documents show that in Guatemala, the association not only sought children by using a private scout, as was the case with the children found in the Camino Real Hotel, it also sought children in state-run orphanages such as Elisa Martínez. In those cases, the proceedings were different and were not so prone to illegality.
The Canadian women’s nightmare
One of the Canadian women who were arrested in November 1981 remembers the whole episode as something so traumatic that it destroyed her faith in people. They were devastated by the time they spent in prison, the interrogations, and the terrible accusations that were made against them. “We tried to put those 33 days in Guatemala behind us and learn to live again”, she says.
They were devastated by the time they spent in prison, the interrogations, and the terrible accusations that were made against them. Even after they had been set free and Judge Guerra Figueroa had cleared them of child trafficking charges and had decreed that Mulet had wronged them, the situation remained tense.
When Mulet, then a young lawyer, arrived at her hotel, he was “almost in a psychotic state”, recalls one of the Canadian women.
“He was out of control…he was threatening us, although he was speaking directly to Lise (the wife of Canadian lawyer Jean Francoeur, founder of Les Enfants du Soleil). I don’t remember what he said but Lise was panicking and we could sense that fear. He was so tall that when we left the hotel to have lunch in Pollo Campero we walked in twos, back to back, looking around us to make sure that no one was coming after us”.
Mulet, who has so far remained calm as he explains his version of events, loses his temper slightly, after hearing this accusation. “It’s totally false”, he answers. “Never, in my entire life, have I threatened anyone. I think she was the one who was upset. Those Canadian ladies were having a hard time”.
On December 22. 1981, days before leaving Guatemala, the four Canadian women signed a statement, witnessed by a notary, in which they gave up their right to sue Edmond Mulet and lawyer Jean Francoeur, as “they were convinced that they had acted in good faith and had no intention of acting against their interests in any way”.
The statement also exonerated Louise de Morel and Ofelia de Gamas and the Niños del Sol Association of any responsibility, as “they were well intentioned people, motivated purely by altruism”.
Louise Depocas de Morel, who was mentioned in the document, was a friend of the Francoeurs. She was Canadian and lived in Guatemala and according to the documents held in the archives of the Secretariat for Social Welfare, she was the president of the Children of the Sun Association. In fact, it was Mrs. Depocas de Morel who had introduced the Francoeur to the adoption business four years earlier.
Mulet’s early days
In 1977, the Francoeurs came to Guatemala intending to adopt a child. Depocas de Morel allowed them to stay at her house and introduced them to the directors of the Elisa Martinez orphanage. They decided to adopt a girl. The adoption proceedings were carried out by lawyer María Luisa Cajas Cuesta. Edmond Mulet, whom they had met at a party and was then 26, acted as their character witness.
In February 1978, seven months after adopting the little girl, the Francoeurs adopted another child from the same orphanage. This time it was a boy. The letters exchanged between the Francoeurs and former director of the Elisa Martinez orphanage’s adoption program, Rosa Amanda de Wannan, which were found in the files of the Secretariat for Social Welfare, clearly show that they had a good relationship. In those letters, De Wannan thanks the couple for their gifts and the Francoeurs send them photos of the children and tell her that the “non profit association to provide information on international adoptions” Children of the Sun, has been legally registered with the Canadian authorities.
The members of the newly created association in 1978 were the same people who had participated in the adoption process of the Francoeurs’ children as proven by one of the documents found in the files of the Secretariat for Social Welfare.
Les enfants du Soleil President: Louise de Morel. Guatemala.
Los Niños del Sol General Director: Guy Darby. Montreal.
Guatemala- Salvador Lawyer and notary: Lic. Edmond Mulet.Guatemala
Honduras- Colombia Legal Advisor: M. Jean Francoeur. Montreal
2480 Boulevard de Rome,
From that moment onwards, Francoeur and Mulet used the Children of the Sun Association to carry out adoption procedures for Guatemalan children from the Elisa Martinez orphanage who were sent to Canadian homes.
According to nine of the adoption files from the Secretariat for Social Welfare that Plaza Pública had access to in 2011, the Niños del Sol association began proceedings to adopt children from the Elisa Martinez orphanage in late 1981. The proceedings follow the usual stages laid out by the National Adoptions Program but in almost half of the cases a number of irregularities were detected. The documents found include letters from 1982 exchanged between the former director of the National Adoption Program, Blanca de Morales, and the Canadian couples, showing they had problems with Mulet. Once the children were in Canada either on a trial or already placed with a family, Mulet, the legal representative of the Canadian couples in Guatemala, didn’t finish the legal proceedings. According to De Morales, the lawyer was too busy with “political activities”.
In these letters, De Morales informs the adoptive parents that she has called, written and sent telegrams to Mulet to finish the proceedings but has not received a reply. Her letters are answered by Mulet’s partner in the firm, Luis Fernando Argueta Bone, who says that he is unable to do anything about it because he is not the families’ legal representative.
Of the nine adoptions mentioned, four were never concluded correctly, according to the records kept by the Secretariat for Social Welfare. In 1996, the Guatemalan authorities simply closed the pending cases with the aim of clarifying the legal status of children that had already spent between 16 and 17 years living with their adoptive families but whose adoption procedures had not been finalized.
Plaza Pública asked Mulet about these cases. He denied any wrongdoing. “All of the proceedings were completed and the files were closed. The children completed the remaining proceedings in Canada. They became Canadian citizens”.
A report found in the now extinct Peace Archives – an institution created under the Álvaro Colom administration and scrapped under his successor, Otto Pérez Molina – shows that between 1977 and 1989, Canada was the country that received the highest number of Guatemalan children from the Elisa Martínez orphanage. It is currently impossible to establish how many of these adoptions were processed by Francoeur and Mulet as the relevant institutions have made it impossible to access the records that were kept in those archives. Plaza Pública has unsuccessfully tried to access these documents using the Freedom of Information Law. The Peace Archives were closed in 2012 by Antonio Arenales Forno, Guatemala’s current Peace Secretary.
Is it all about the money?
When questioned, adoption lawyers usually claim they are acting for humanitarian reasons. Edmond Mulet is no exception. “If the children have been abandoned and someone wants to adopt them, give them an education, give them an opportunity in life, that’s something we should be grateful for. Adoption has saved the lives of many children, not only in Guatemala, but all over the world”, he says. “Over the years, I have followed these children’s development and this has given me great satisfaction because if they would have stayed in Guatemala, they would have remained abandoned orphans and they would have starved, they would have been street children, who knows what would have happened to them”, he added.
However, the children found by the police in the Camino Real Hotel hadn’t been abandoned and they were not orphans. In fact, according to the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), 90% of the children adopted in Guatemala were handed over by their biological parents or by people who pretended to be the child’s biological parents when the child had been abducted.
From 1977 to 2008, Guatemala became an “adoption market”. After the turn of the century, it was a US$200 million – a year business, without taking into account hotel and travel expenses, among other expenses incurred in by adoptive parents.
Back in 1981, the judges wondered if profit was the motor behind this carefully structured adoption ring and the questions they asked those who were arrested at the Camino Real Hotel aimed to establish who was profiting from all this. Lise Francoeur told the judge that The Children of the Sun was only “a non-profit information center” and that “it was by no means an adoption agency that sought children for adoptive parents” but her statement seemed paradoxical given that she and her mother had been arrested for trying to take several children to Canada. The children’s biological mothers had unanimously told the judge that they had not given up their children for money and that they were motivated by a desire to give them a better future.
But the two Canadian women did specify how much they paid their two lawyers. Diane W. said that when she returned to Canada she would have to pay Mulet Q800 (today the equivalent would be US$2,244) and a similar amount to Francoeur. And Monique M. said she would have to pay Mulet around US$800 (then, equivalent of Q800) and she would have to pay Francoeur 800 Canadian dollars.
Mulet now claims he charged US$400 per adoption, not for his services, merely to cover administrative costs: telephone calls, travel expenses, etcetera. This is not what he said in 1981. Thirty three years ago, when questioned by the police, Mulet said that he had “obviously charged for his professional services” and for his work as “general coordinator for child recruitment”.
Jean Francoeur told Plaza Pública that those fees were the only expenses paid by the adoptive parents. He was asked about the other expenses as The Children of the Sun association cared for the children for three to four months and also provided midwifery services. And then there was Ofelia Gamas who combed the city’s parks and markets in search of poor and needy pregnant women. The Canadian lawyer said it was a non-profit association. “The children were cared of by nuns while the adoptive parents came to collect them”.
But neither Ofelia de Gamas nor the Children of the Sun association had any proven ties to any religious order. No evidence of this was found in any of the documents or records. And a number of witnesses have said that those who looked after the children were not nuns, something that the Canadian adoptive mother interviewed by Plaza Pública confirmed.
Six years later, in 1987, Jean Francoeur admitted in a hearing in the Quebec Parliament that an international adoption required “considerable financial resources”. “If it is done through a recognized organization, it costs at least US$6,000”, he said. Today, that would be roughly the equivalent of Q120,000.
Francoeur and other experts had been summoned for a serious reason: Quebec was facing major problems because it was taking children who were in a legal limbo, as was the case with some of the Guatemalan children from the Elisa Martinez orphanage whose adoption proceedings had been handled by Children of the Sun. Many of the adoptions that were legalized by the Canadian legal system appeared to be full of irregularities in the children’s countries of origin. Given all of these irregularities, the Quebec Parliament put forward for debate a law that would channel all international adoptions through a centralized government bureau. Jean Francoeur rejected the proposal and vehemently defended the statu quo. He deemed the law to be unnecessary. He argued that adoption was a private family matter and that the necessary legal safeguards already existed in the children’s countries of origin.
The scheme concocted by Mulet to allow the children found in the Camino Real Hotel in 1981 to leave the country was so peculiar that a former family judge who served at the time finds it amazing. The judge, who requested anonymity, told Plaza Pública that she had never heard of anything like that. The intention seemed clear but legally it was impossible to determine that it was an adoption because none of the necessary steps had been followed.
Marvin Rabanales, a specialist on child welfare and a lawyer for the Institute for Social Protection, a children’s rights organization, said that to this day he had never seen anything like it. “The documents written up by Mulet in which the parents agree to the adoptions in Canada do not fulfill and adoption”, adds Rabanales. “He was issuing public documents that had no effectiveness”.
In 2013, Mulet, speaking from the UN’s office in New York, found it difficult to explain his legal methods during a telephone interview with Plaza Pública. Initially, he seemed to be aware of the terms of the adoption law. “A social worker needs to agree to the adoption and the judge must be notified, otherwise the notary cannot conclude the proceedings”, he said. Then he added: “I don’t have the file in front of me but if those children were able to obtain a passport and visa they met those requirements”. But when he was reminded that those proceedings were not made and that the children were travelling as “tourists” and as the children of their biological parents rather than adopted children, he said: “Oh, yes, yes. There were also a number of cases in which the adoption proceedings were carried out in the country that the children were sent to. If the mother agreed, if she authorized the children to be taken out of the country with the adoptive parents, it could be done. The adopted child could leave with its adoptive parents as soon as possible, as this was best for its wellbeing and its mental health while the adoption proceedings were sorted out in that country”, he said. “That was also an option”.
That option meant that the child was left in a legal limbo, facing an uncertain future, and was deprived of the institutional guarantees –however feeble they might have been in those days– that ensured that the adoption was legal and that the adoptive parents were suitable, explains Julio Prado, former member of the special prosecutor's office, who investigated irregular adoptions and who worked with the UN Comission Against Impunity in Guatemala.
Nothing (neither a legally binding agreement nor the legal proceedings that Mulet followed as described by the director of the orphanage) guaranteed that the babies would return. Although there was an alternative adoption process that could be used in the case of children who were cared for in orphanages, in those days, under Guatemalan law, that procedure was not applicable to cases such as that of the babies found in the Camino Real hotel.
When questioned about this, Mulet replied, during a telephone interview in 2015: “Is it expressly forbidden, under the law, that a Guatemalan minor who lives abroad can undergo an adoption process in Guatemala? I can’t see how that’s illegal”, contradicting his 2013 version, when he said that “there were also a number of cases in which the adoption proceedings were carried out in the country that the children were sent to.”
When Mulet testified before Judge Carlos Antonio Albúrez Roca, in 1981, he did what most of the lawyers who were involved in adoption procedures did in those days: he argued that he was acting purely as a notary and was witnessing the signature of a document.
Statement made by Edmond Mulet, 27th of November, 1981
QUESTION: Why didn’t you abide by Guatemalan law when you arranged the adoption proceedings for these children?
ANSWER: My role, which was strictly professional, never involved carrying out the adoption proceedings. My role merely consisted of legalizing public documents in which Guatemalan parents consented to their children’s future adoption and requested the Migration Bureau for the necessary passports to be issued.
During a telephone interview with Plaza Pública, Canadian lawyer Jean Francoeur defended Mulet. “He was very honest, very meticulous and his work was very good. It’s almost inconceivable to think that Mulet didn’t follow the correct proceedures in his own country”. And with regard to the length of time that an adoption took, Francoeur said: “It took a year from the moment the documents were received”. When Plaza Pública pointed out that the documents relating to the children who were adopted in 1981 show that the process lasted less than a year, Francoeur replied:
-I don’t think it took only two months. I’m very surprised because it takes longer.
1984. “History repeats itself”
Edmond Mulet continued to work independently as an adoption lawyer, despite the fact that he had been in trouble with the law as a result of the role he played as a member of the Los Niños del Sol association. In 1984, the National Police identified him as the ringleader of another organization that paid vulnerable mothers to give their children up for adoption to foreign families.
On that occasion, Mulet was not formally prosecuted or arrested. In June 1984, the police arrested two people: Raúl Alemán Roquel and María del Rosario Alvarado Orellana. They
lived in an impoverished area in Guatemala City and they were looking after a baby that wasn’t theirs and that was going to be adopted by an American family. Alvarado Orellana told the police that this was the third baby she had looked after under Mulet’s orders. He had paid the couple Q50 a month to look after the babies and had given them an additional Q25 for food expenses. She added that the lawyer “bought” those babies from “single women who got pregnant and from prostitutes”.
Now, the prosecution didn’t get very far. The two people who were arrested denied what they had previously told the police . The claimed they didn’t know Mulet and they denied having looked after other children on his behalf. They denied that the child they were looking after was going to be given up for adoption and they said they were merely doing its mother a favor by looking after it. However, some of the details revealed by Maria del Rosario Alvarado, and which she later denied once she was summoned to court, proved to be true. According to the documents provided by her defense lawyer, the two children she claimed she was looking after were effectively given up for adoption and those adoptions had been carried out by Edmond Mulet, who had been given a power of attorney, and by his partner Luis Fernando Argueta Bone, who acted as a notary. The documents provided, which included the certificate from the Public Procurator’s Office and from the family court, proved that on that occasion the adoption was legal. Mulet wasn’t questiones nor accused of breaking the law.
Edmond Mulet says he doesn’t remember that chapter in his legal history but he does admit that he employed carers to look after the infants. “While the adoption procedures take place, the child is no longer with its mother. It’s left with a person who cares for it, with a family. It could be that these women were given money to buy milk, to support the baby and to purchase whatever was necessary”.
Epilogue in Haiti
Edmond Mulet’s adoption issues didn’t end in 1984. In 2011, he would have to face these issues again from a very different position: as head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.
In January 2010, 15 days after the earthquake that claimed the lives of 316,000 people, an organization of Baptist missionaries called New Life Children’s Refuge was caught attempting to take 33 Haitian children to the Dominican Republic. The Baptists claimed that the children had lost their parents during the earthquake and that they were being taken to a makeshift orphanage located in a hotel.
However, the subsequent investigation revealed that hardly any of these children were orphans and that the missionaries were trying to “sell” the children on the international adoption market. UNICEF advisor Jean Claude Legrand said that child trafficking rings “were taking advantage of the weakness of the Haitian state and of the control systems”.
Edmond Mulet, who had just arrived at Port Au Prince, faced a dilemma: choosing between a system that allowed children to be taken out of the country in the aftermath of the disaster which would supposedly give them a better chance in life, and a system with strict controls and safety checks in order to safeguard the rights of all children. Mulet announced that, in order to protect children’s welfare, all adoption procedures had to be personally approved by the Haitian Prime Minister.
One day after his last comments on the phone, Mulet wrote an email. He said: “I kept on thinking about some of the questions and answers, given that being such an old issue, I can't remember the facts clearly. Regarding the procedure of sending the children to their country of adoption while the adoption process was concluded, it was something very common in that time, and judges and social workers allowed that practice. Later on, this method was no longer accepted, but it was something that was used without problem, keeping always in mind the children welfare and in order to prevent them from being a long and harmful stay in the orphanage.”
Translated by Louisa Reynolds.
UPDATE: The original text said that Plaza Pública was unable to find any statement by Mulet delivered to the Guatemalan press on the assault on the Spanish embassy, and quoted a press release by his party. On the night of February 27h, Plaza Pública obtained a digital copy of the Inforpress Centroamericana's issue in which Mulet's statement is briefly cited.