A paediatrician from one of the Argentina’s most prestigious hospitals was handed 10 years in jail on Wednesday, after being convicted of charges related to the possession, production and distribution of child pornography.
Doctor Ricardo Alberto Russo, former head of immunology and rheumatology at the Buenos Aires City’s Juan P. Garrahan Children’s Hospital, was handed a decade behind bars and disqualified from practising medicine for life. The sentence was handed down by Judge Gonzalo Rúa, who also revoked terms allowing Russo to serve out his sentence under home arrest and ordered he be sent to a federal penitentiary.
Condemning the disgraced paediatrician, the judge described the child pornography as “content with high [levels] of sexual abuse and the exploitation of minors,” describing the images as “grotesque, aberrant and very violent.”
“He made available 270 video files with content [featuring] sexual exploitation,” the judge told the court, indicating that the children photographed were younger than 13 years of age.
Russo, who arrived in Court No. 6 at 3.30pm accompanied by his lawyer Ricardo Izquierdo, remained calm while listening to Judge Rúa’s sentence.
He had earlier told the court that the images were commonplace in his profession, of the type that could be seen in “any medical text,” describing “this process” as “distorted” and “demented.”
“I am innocent of all the charges against me,” said the disgraced paediatrician, saying that the prosecutor had equated medical images with child pornography.
Izquierdo later confirmed that Russo – who had previously worked in hospitals and the United States – had been transferred via the federal penitentiary service to Ezeiza prison, where he will serve out his sentence. He did not say whether Russo would appeal the sentence.
Prosecutor Daniela Dupuy said after the verdict that she was “very satisfied with the conviction,” saying her and her colleagues had worked “very conscientiously” on the case. “The evidence is overwhelming,” she added.
In a statement, the The Buenos Aires Public Prosecutor’s Office highlighted that Russo had been charged with the “distribution of 336 videos featuring child sexual exploitation, the possession of 964 images for the clear purpose of distribution, plus 68 videos hidden on his personal computer that were found in his private home, and another 100 photographs taken in his office at the Garrahan Hospital that were concealed in a music folder.”
The City’s Attorney General Juan Bautista Mahiques, highlighted the work of Dupuy’s work and the speed of the conviction.
“The complaint – originally initiated in Brazil, as a result of an international megaoperation – was filed at the end of 2018 and by May 29 of this year the defendant had already been arrested. After five months the oral trial began and nine days later we got the sentence,” said Mahiques.
Carlos Kambourian, the president of the board of directors of the Garrahan Hospital, said his institution and its members were “very happy to have come to the truth,” though he described the situation as “very difficult” for everyone.
“We are also victims of this situation,” he told state news agency Télam. “The hospital was the victim of an attack that forced us to put systems of psychological and institutional support in place for all the professionals who worked with Russo.”
“The Garrahan Hospital is one of the most important in Latin America,” he added. “I invite everyone to learn from this situation.”
Kambourian said the feeling inside the hospital “was not the same” after Russo’s arrest but said he hoped it would “normalise” over time.
Arrest and investigation
Russo was arrested in May, after a nine-month probe – nown as “Luz de Infancia III” – headed by US Homeland Security and the Brazilian Federal Police. US officials notified Argentine counterparts in November 2018 that over 890,000 files of child pornography had been shared from Argentina servers using peer-to-peer technology and eventually more than 40 raids were carried out across Brazil and Argentina.
Authorities at the time seized computers and other equipment when they raided dozens of homes, including the doctor’s personal residence in the City neighbourhood of Belgrano. Over 90 USB sticks, 99 hard disks, 4,228 CDs and Blue-Ray disks, 57 laptop computers and 11 cameras were among the items seized. Two pistols, two revolvers and a shotgun were also found.
“Information was obtained from an encrypted system in the deep web, where people participate in the exchange of material involving children in truly terrible situations of sexual abuse,” Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said during a press conference back in May.
According to previous reports, the images uncovered by prosecutors featured children between six months and 14 years of age, with explicit sexual content.
Dupuy, speaking to Noticias Argentinas on Wednesday, said that Russo was one of 40 high-priority cases involving child pornography in Argentina.