The new lawyer for 10 American Baptists charged with child kidnapping said Monday he believes they had paperwork to take 33 children out of the country after Haiti's devastating earthquake.
Attorney Aviol Fleurant's remarks came as investigators questioned the Baptist group's leader, Laura Silsby, who insisted she is innocent of any wrongdoing.
"I am trusting in God to reveal all truths and that we will be released and exonerated of charges," Silsby, of Meridian, Idaho, told reporters as she left a courthouse in Port-au-Prince. "We are just waiting for the Haitian legal process to be completed."
The rest of the group's members will be questioned this week over allegations they tried to take the children to the neighboring Dominican Republic without proper documents. The Americans said they were on a humanitarian mission to rescue orphans after Haiti's catastrophic Jan. 12 quake.
Their Dominican lawyer, Jorge Puello, said at a news conference that the Haitian court was going to drop all charges against his clients Wednesday. Puello would not say where that information came from. Last week, he claimed nine of the 10 were about to be released.
"The judge will rule on Wednesday on whether or not to take the case or free them, and we already have assurances that they will drop the case," Puello told The Associated Press.
At least 20 of the 33 children had living parents. Some of those parents told The Associated Press they gave the kids to the group because the missionaries promised to educate them at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic and said they would allow parents to visit.
"Many of the parents who had the opportunity to speak out declared, in good faith, to have given their children to the Americans," Fleurant said.
"I also believe, really believe— and I don't want to break the gag order from the court — that the Americans have a document, from somebody, an authorization to take the children with them."
It wasn't immediately clear who could have given the authorization.
Puello, retained by relatives of the 10 missionaries after their Feb. 1 arrest, said over the weekend that he fired their first Haitian lawyer — Edwin Coq — after Coq allegedly tried to bribe the missionaries out of jail. He had hired Coq to represent the detainees at Haitian legal proceedings.
Coq denied the allegation. He said the $60,000 he requested from the Americans' families was his fee.
Bernard Saint-Vil, the investigating magistrate, is in charge of finding out what happened in late January, in the days leading up to the arrest of Silsby and the others at the Dominican border.
The Dominican consul in Haiti, Carlos Castillo, has said he warned Silsby that she lacked the required papers and risked being arrested at the border for child trafficking.
The case has tapped into fears in Haiti that traffickers would take advantage of the chaos immediately after the quake to abduct children.
Amid those fears — and before the Baptists were detained — Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive announced that all foreign adoptions would need his personal approval.
At the same time, Bellerive has rushed to approve legal foreign adoptions that were already in the pipeline, said Jeanne Bernard Pierre, an adoptions official at the Haitian Ministry of Social Affairs.
Pierre did not have exact statistics. In terms of the United States, more than 650 orphans have gone to live there since the quake — compared to 330 for all of 2009 and 302 in 2008, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Elizabeth E. Detmeister said.
Until Bellerive speeded up the process, it could take up to two years to complete all the formalities necessary for a foreign adoption, Pierre said.
Every day, prospective parents crowd outside the U.S. Embassy, waiting to apply for visas for the children they want to adopt.
Until last year, France was the country that adopted the most Haitian children, Pierre said. She said French parents adopted nearly half of the 1,000 children taken in by foreigners in 2008. It was the last official figure Pierre could remember; most records are buried in the rubble of government buildings in Port-au-Prince.
Thousands more Haitian children, orphaned and not, leave the country illicitly each year, according to the U.N. Children's Fund. They are forced into domestic or agricultural labor, used as sex slaves, or sold on the clandestine market for adoption.
Associated Press Writer Michelle Faul contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS spelling of of lawyer's name to Fleurant, instead of Fluerant.)
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