An Italian tourist arrested in Brazil after being accused of publicly molesting his eight-year-old daughter has been put under police guard in hospital after falling ill when a judge rejected his plea for bail.
The 48-year-old entrepreneur, who has not been named, was arrested last Tuesday at a seaside resort in the north-eastern city of Fortaleza after bystanders told police he had been seen kissing and “caressing” the girl.
However, Ivana Timbó, a superintendent in the city’s taskforce combatting child sex tourism, said nothing in the daughter’s initial statement suggested that she had been molested.
If convicted, the tourist, from Guidonia, near Rome, could face a long spell in prison. New Brazilian laws, intended to crack down on child sex tourism, define “libidinous acts” with children under the age of 14 as rape, punishable with sentences of eight to 15 years.
The Italian was rushed to hospital with high blood pressure on Sunday after a judge ruled he should remain in custody until police finished their initial investigation. Police are due to hear three further witnesses today.
“It was not a father-daughter situation,” one witness told the television channel TV Verdes Mares, saying the man had touched his daughter in a “hot” manner.
The girl’s Brazilian mother, who reportedly met her husband 11 years ago while working as a waiter in Italy, denied any abuse. “If something untoward had been going on, I would be on the side of my daughter,” she told the government news agency Agencia Brasil.
In an interview with local television she added: “I think they got confused, they misunderstood it. With so many cases of sexual abuses, they saw a white, foreign man with a much darker [skinned] girl. They didn’t try and inform themselves or find out who was who. They immediately thought it was a foreigner trying to pick up an eight-year-old girl.” She blamed the accusations on “prejudice”.
Located in the impoverished north-eastern state of Ceará, Fortaleza, a seaside city of 2.4 million inhabitants, is a popular destination for European tourists and a notorious centre for sex tourism. Blessed with some of South America’s most beautiful beaches, Ceará is also one of the most deprived parts of Brazil, with one of the lowest development indexes in the country. Activists say thousands of European men go there each year in search of cheap sex, sometimes with minors, who use the money to support their families.
Several European tour companies operate websites where visitors can fill in online forms “ordering” girls with whom they want to spend their holidays.
A 2002 study of sex tourism in the region found that 78% of foreign visitors to Fortaleza were male, and 32% of cities in north-east Brazil had child prostitution networks, the highest rate in the country.
Before being taken to hospital the Italian tourist, who was due to fly back to Italy last week, was reportedly being held in a cramped cell containing a mattress and a fan brought in by his family.
Timbó said the initial inquiry should be completed by Thursday.