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Baby Black Market: Pregnant Bulgarians Brought To Italy To Hand Over Newborns

In the Italian city of Caserta, infertile couples bought the babies of Bulgarian women who were specifically brought to Italy when they were eight months pregnant. Three have been arrested, as disturbing details of the special arrangements emerge.

Antonio Salvati

CASERTA - "What stage are we in now?" a lady asks by phone.

"No contractions yet," answers another female voice from the other end of the line. The faint sound of an irritated gesture can be heard, before the lady wonders: "if there's another one available?" This was the kind of routine call at the "baby supermarket," a brutal black market of newborns Italy's carabinieri military police have uncovered in the Caserta region near Naples.

According to the investigation, led by the Public Prosecutor's Office of Santa Maria Capua Vetere, the racket was organized so that young women were recruited in Bulgaria, and babies were sold to childless couples in Italy. Each newborn child cost 20,000 euros, with transport and office registration included. Once a child was born, the new "dad" told the office registry that the baby was indeed his child, the fruit of an extra-marital affair with a Bulgarian lady that his wife has since forgiven.

The three people arrested are a married Bulgarian couple and an Italian man from Caserta.

The investigation started in 2009 when the carabinieri started to examine the list of about 20 children, all born in the region of Campania to Italian fathers and Bulgarian mothers. At their first analysis of the list, investigators noticed that the same mobile number was written down in the "next-of-kin contact" on the birth certificate for two different cases. This was Antonio Maione's number: the 56-year-old is believed to be the "broker" of infertile couples who were desperate for a child. In a phone call recorded by police detectives, he can be heard announcing a birth to a new would-be father: "Come over, he's born. Congratulations, you're a Dad!"

A father of 13

Maione's personal story is strange, as he himself is the father of 13 children from 5 different women. When asked about the reason for such numerous offspring, he reportedly replied that he was an only child himself and he missed company as a kid. Eight cases are currently being screened by investigators, but only in two have they managed to piece the process from the start up to the moment when the child is handed to the Italian buyers.

Stefan and Anna, the Bulgarian couple, had the task of going to their native country and spotting pregnant women who would be ready to give up the baby in exchange for cash.

The chosen girls, who were often eight-months pregnant, were brought to Italy to give birth in a clinic of the Casertano region. They entered the country through Greece, and went back home to Bulgaria once the deal was completed. Getting the girls was an easy job for the Bulgarian couple, so much that in more than one instance, Anna, whose calls have been intercepted, has an argument with Maione, whom she accuses of not working enough.

"I did find the couples," the Italian says, defending himself. "The problem is they don't have the money." In only one case was the payment of the negotiated price recorded, when the couple who "purchased" the child had signed a loan contract for 20,000 euros.

Read more from LA STAMPA Italian

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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