Retired surgeon suspected of abusing up to 349 children stands trial in France

SAINTES, France (Reuters) – A retired surgeon suspected of raping or sexually abusing as many as 349 children over nearly three decades went on trial behind closed doors in France on Friday in what could be the country’s biggest-ever pedophilia scandal.

The trial in the western town of Saintes is the first of hundreds of legal complaints against defendant Joel Le Scouarnec to come to court. It is due to run until March 17.

Le Scouarnec, 69, is charged in this opening case with raping and sexually abusing four children between 1989 and 2017. The alleged victims included two of his nieces, a patient and his neighbor’s then six-year-old daughter.

Because the victims were minors at the time, the Saintes court ruled on Friday that proceedings would be closed to the public, radio franceinfo said.

Le Scouarnec was arrested in 2017 when the young girl living next door told her mother that he had exposed himself and molested her.

Investigators said a search of Le Scouarnec’s home yielded images of child abuse as well as notebooks where the surgeon detailed acts of sexual violence against children from 1989 to 2017.

Le Scouarnec has told investigators that he had “already acted out” with children. He has however denied any full sexual penetration and said his diaries included an element of fantasy.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Richard Lough/Mark Heinrich)