LIMA (Reuters) - A public prosecutor in Peru is seeking the pre-trial detention of Luis Figari, founder of an elite Catholic society who is accused of sexually and physically abusing children and former members of the group, the attorney for the victims of the alleged abuse told Reuters on Wednesday.
The prosecutor will ask a judge to order Figari and three other former leaders of Sodalitium Christianae Vitae to spend up to nine months in jail ahead of trial, said Hector Gadea.
Gadea said he received a copy of the prosecutor’s so-called preventive prison request earlier on Wednesday and a hearing on the request has yet to be scheduled.
The prosecutors’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gadea said prosecutor Maria Leon is charging Figari and other former leaders of the Sodalitium of conspiracy to commit crimes because statute of limitations would prohibit charges for most of the alleged abuse.
Figari, who denies wrongdoing, lives in Rome. He is not clergy but Sodalitium has pontifical approval. The accusations against him come ahead of a trip to Peru by Pope Francis, who has promised to hold all sex abusers in the Church accountable.
Juan Armando Lengua, Figari’s attorney, said on local broadcaster Canal N that the request had no legal basis and no evidence had been found to prove any abuse took place.
The attorney general’s office first opened a probe into Figari in 2015 following the publication of a book into the alleged abuse by Peruvian investigative journalists Pao Ugaz and Pedro Salinas. Salinas once belonged to Sodalitium, whose members include businessmen, writers and politicians from Lima’s upper classes.
The book described Figari as cult-like leader who raped and molested vulnerable boys and young men in the group. He also regularly committed physical and psychological abuse to exert control over his followers, the authors wrote.
The probe was closed early this year and later was reopened by a new prosecutor.
“Without a doubt this is redemption for the victims. This is no longer a struggle we’re fighting alone,” Gadea said.
Sodalitium was founded in 1971 before expanding in Latin America, Italy and the United States.
Reporting By Mitra Taj, Additional Reporting By Marco Aquino; Editing by David Gregorio