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Brazil vows speedy return of pedophile

June 30, 2007|Patrick J. McDonnell | Times Staff Writer

SANTIAGO, CHILE — Officials here and in Brazil pledged Friday to accelerate the return to Chile of a notorious child pornography ringleader who was arrested last week in Brazil.

The convicted pedophile, Rafael Maureira, 46, widely referred to by the pseudonym Zakarach, fled from a Santiago halfway house in March, causing a furor and triggering an international manhunt.

Maureira was sentenced to 20 years in prison for child abuse and related crimes in a high-profile case that led to a crackdown on Internet child pornography. Authorities say he met some of his victims through his work as a scout leader and school bus driver, and later lured them with gifts, liquor and drugs.

Maureira was arrested last week at a hostel in the southern Brazilian city of Criciuma after Chilean authorities alerted Interpol and other South American governments of his escape. He is under Brazilian federal police custody in the southern city of Florianopolis.

Chilean police have described Maureira as the leader of an international pedophile and child-pornography ring known as Paidos, which authorities say was broken with the initial arrest in 2002 of Maureira and other suspects.

His escape in March led to fears that Maureira could find protection via an international web of pedophiles.

The possibility that his return could drag on for weeks or months has triggered criticism of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet for not intervening sooner with her Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

"As president, as a woman, as a mother, I insist that the extradition from Brazil to Chile not be delayed," Bachelet said here this week, assuring the victims' families that Maureira would serve his time.

Brazilian and Chilean authorities vowed Friday at a trade session in Asuncion, Paraguay, to push for Maureira's return, and Chilean officials launched the extradition process.

The Brazilian government "is doing everything possible to make sure that Zakarach is rapidly returned to Chile," Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said.

However, Brazilian and Chilean authorities have said that the extradition process will take some time. A lawyer has been appointed in Brazil to represent Maureira, but it was not clear whether he would wage a court fight to block his client's return to Chile.

Chilean Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley noted that "although this is in the hands of the judicial system," authorities in both nations plan to "accelerate to the maximum possible the expulsion or extradition of this person."

Maureira had been allowed to live in the halfway house pending sentencing in March but fled before he could be imprisoned.

The case of Maureira was initially exposed through the report of an investigative team working for a Roman Catholic television channel. The revelations sparked fear that Chile had become a haven for pedophiles and prompted officials to tighten laws against child abuse.

Chilean authorities at one point contemplated "chemical castration" of Maureira, but medical officials ruled out the treatment.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

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