By NATALIE CLARKE
Last updated at 22:00 22 december 2006
Marie Golby with the Romanian baby she stole
EXCLUSIVE: This is the first picture of the British woman with the Romanian baby she stole. And as this investigation reveals, countless other children are being bred to order in Mafia-run baby farms:
The Baby Factory is run with brutal efficiency. As soon as an order has been placed, a woman is chosen to produce a baby. Only the beautiful girls are selected to join the production line.
The customers will, the owners of the factory know all too well, pay a higher price for an angelic-looking baby. The blue-eyed ones are particularly prized.
The woman is impregnated by mafia racketeers and then looked after, housed, fed and clothed for the next nine months.
She does not give birth in hospital in case someone asks too many questions. Rather, she has the baby in a makeshift maternity suite – a room in a house rented by the factory for the purpose.
A trained midwife in the pay of the factory is on hand to ensure a safe delivery. There is, after all, a lot of money at stake. Up to £20,000, in fact.
The scenario painted above sounds like something that might have happened in Hitler’s Germany. In reality, it is a burgeoning industry today.
A Mail investigation has uncovered such a baby factory in Athens run by the Albanian and Russian mafias, catering to the demands of wealthy Western women unable to have children of their own.
They come from Britain, Europe and as far afield as America, hand over a huge wad of cash and take the child back home.
The baby factory in Athens is doing a booming trade. The girls selected by the gangs for the production line are mostly Bulgarians and Romanian gipsies.
Consequently, there are very real fears that when Romania and Bulgaria join the EU next month, giving nationals from those countries an open door to Britain, the gangs will set up similar baby factories here.
Did Marie Golby, the 41-year-old British woman who hit the headlines this week after being accused of stealing a baby from a Romanian gipsy, come into contact with such a gang? The Romanian gipsy, Sophia Percula, has admitted to the police that she went to Greece earlier this month to sell her six-month-old daughter for 14,000 euros (around £9,500) in an illegal adoption scam arranged by a cousin.
She told police that she arranged to meet Golby in an Athens supermarket on Wednesday of last week, but Golby ran off with the child. Golby denies stealing the six-month-old girl – pictured here exclusively for the first time in the Mail – but admits taking her.
Sophia’s father-in-law, Nikolai Percula, is said to have brought her over the border into Greece earlier this month.
Does Nikolai, who has a Rasputin-like appearance together with cartoonish attempts at a menacing manner during his appearances in court, have connections with the mafias running the baby factory?
Sophia certainly fits the mould of the beautiful, healthy young woman who has the misfortune to be desperately poor – perfect prey for the gangsters running the racket.
The police are keeping an open mind, but at this stage they suspect it was an ‘independent’ operation.
The Greek authorities admit the babies-for-sale racket is worsening. ‘This is an escalating problem, the scale of which is impossible to grasp,’ said Lieutenant Colonel Antonia Andreakou, director of the Greek police’s public security division, which handles cross-border crime.
Ms Andreakou said her department had traced nine sales of Bulgarian infants in the first six months of this year and arrested 33 suspected mediators – 24 Bulgarians, seven Greeks (including doctors and lawyers) and two Albanians.
‘This is just a fraction of the number of cases,’ she said. ‘We need to prove that money has exchanged hands, as this is what makes the transaction illegal, but that is very difficult to do.’
Last month, five Albanians were arrested near the Greek-Albanian border for the alleged sale of eight Roma infants. The gangs recruit the women in several ways. One, say police sources, is to seek out a young, attractive, healthy woman and tell her they can organise a false passport and papers to enable her to enter Greece.
Once this has been done, the girl is presented with a huge bill which she is unable to pay. She is then told that the debt will be written off if she gets pregnant and gives up her baby.
‘The girls have no option but to comply,’ says a police source. ‘You would not want to upset these people.’
It is believed that these women are made pregnant by members of the gang – a man inevitably caught up in the other mafia ‘businesses’ of drug dealing and prostitution.
Another method of ‘recruitment’ is to prey on pregnant women who are drug addicts. They are offered money in return for their baby.
During the woman’s pregnancy, she is well looked after. Not out of care or compassion, of course, but to ensure the baby has the best possible chance of being born healthy.
The birth takes place in one of the factory’s self-styled maternity wards. But there will be a doctor and midwife present at the birth to make sure the investment yields a viable product.
The woman takes care of her child for up to 40 days before it is handed over to the couple in exchange for a large envelope of cash. The gangs have doctors and midwives in their employ who will vouch that the baby is the adoptive woman’s own for the purposes of obtaining a birth certificate.
It’s a dirty business. Amid this backdrop of bribery, misery and menace, a child is bought by an affluent Westerner who will be entirely ignorant of the wretched circumstances of her child’s conception. But what of the baby’s natural mother?
‘Once the woman has served her purpose, she is as good as dead,’ a senior police source told me. ‘The gang will force her into prostitution and drive her into the ground.’ The location of the baby factory’s HQ is unclear but it is likely some of its operations are carried out within Athens’ red light district.
It is in one of the area’s grubby hotels which operate as brothels that Sophia, whose young husband remained behind in Romania, is believed to have been staying in the past few weeks.
It’s a long way from the wealthy enclaves of Europe and the U.S. So just how do these middle-class women make contact with Albanian and Russian gangsters?
‘They don’t go to them, the gangs go to the women,’ explains Spiras Kloudas, a lawyer who specialise in human trafficking cases. ‘The gangs are tipped off that the women are desperate for a baby and they make contact with them.’
For example, if the woman has had failed IVF treatment in hospital, a corrupt employee will inform the gang. It is also thought there may be staff at adoption agencies who tip off the mafia.
It is not yet clear how Golby, from a Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, made contact with Sophia Percula, but it is clear she was desperate to the point of going mad to have a baby.
At 17, she had had an operation to remove an abscess on her ovaries and was told she could never have children, but she did not give up hope.
Married three times, she has left a trail of bitter ex-husbands and boyfriends in her wake in her search for true love and a family.
Husband number one was Kevin Kawalkowski, a member of the U.S. Air Force stationed at Upper Heyford, near Oxford, in the late 1980s. Within three weeks, she informed him she was pregnant and three months after that, said she had lost the baby. Tests revealed the ‘pregnancy’ had not existed.
The marriage ended soon afterwards. It is believed there was a second brief marriage in America before Golby returned home in the early 1990s.
Husband number three was Michael Leonard, whom she married in 2002. Attempts to conceive through IVF treatment failed and the marriage broke down.
Last year, Golby went on holiday to the Greek island of Kefalonia, where she met Giorges Manentis, a 24-year-old restaurant owner. She fell in love with her handsome toyboy and decided to stay on.
As a result, she has been dubbed a real life Shirley Valentine, after the eponymous character in the 1989 film in which a disaffected British housewife finds love with a Greek waiter.
The couple did not live together, however. Golby set up home in the town of Skala, near the Veto bar where she worked, while Mr Manentis lived a few miles away in the village of Agia Irini.
Then, it seems, she decided to fake a pregnancy. Two months ago, during a trip back home to Britain, Mr Manentis says she called him to say she was having his baby and that she would be returning to Greece with the child.
On Wednesday of last week, Golby met up with Sophia Percula. As she told it to the police, she had not arranged to meet the mother, but came across her begging in the streets.
Her lawyer, Christopher Kaparounakis, says she felt sorry for the girl and bought her a cheese pie, then gave her some money to buy nappies.
The girl then disappeared. Instead of going to the police, however, Golby headed to Kefalonia with the baby.
Unfortunately, Mr Manentis thought she seemed rather large for a baby just a couple of weeks old.
‘The baby girl is indeed beautiful, but when she brought it to Kefalonia I quickly suspected it was not mine. I could not accept to raise it.
‘Marie was very anxious to have a child, to have a family, but she should have understood that I am much too young to take on such responsibilities.’
After Mr Manentis had told her he could not accept the child – and ended the relationship – Golby took her to a hospital on Kefalonia and requested that the baby be taken in for adoption because she did not have the means to raise her.
Because she had no documents to prove she was the mother, doctors called police and she was arrested.
She was taken to Athens, charged with ‘direct involvement in the abduction of a child for illegal adoption or possible sale’ and placed in custody. The offence carries a maximum sentence of ten years. Sophia and her father-in-law were also arrested for their part in the alleged scam.
As for the child, she is being cared for at a children’s hospital in Athens and is likely to be put up for adoption.
Golby may have to wait up to a year before her trial begins. On Wednesday, she was freed on bail on condition that she remains in Greece.
On Thursday afternoon she boarded a ferry to Kefalonia, presumably to try to make things up with her boyfriend. There is little chance of that.
There is no happy ending to Marie Golby’s story. And while many of those other women who come to Athens to adopt a baby through the back door get what they want, it comes at a huge cost to those benighted women who have been forced on to the production line of the Baby Factory.