SAINTES, FRANCE (AFP) - A retired French surgeon went on trial Friday (March 13) accused of sexually assaulting and raping minors in what prosecutors believe could be France's biggest paedophilia case.
Joel Le Scouarnec, 69, entered the dock in Saintes, in south-west France charged with the rape and sexual abuse of four children.
But it is only the start of what could prove a long and troubling legal saga after prosecutors said last year that Le Scouarnec may have raped or sexually abused as many as 349 children over his near 30-year career.
The judged ordered that the trial hearings be held behind closed doors, as requested by three of the four plaintiffs.
Le Scouarnec stands accused of raping or assaulting four children: the daughter of his neighbour when she was aged six in 2017, two nieces between 1989 and 1999, and a hospital patient who was only four in 1993.
It was the testimony in April 2017 of his young neighbour that started to unravel an alleged paedophile case unprecedented in French legal history.
Le Scouarnec admits to assault but denies the rape charges that could see him jailed for up to 20 years
"He wishes to express himself before the judges," Le Scouarnec's lawyer, Mr Thibaut Kurzawa, said on Friday. "He wants to try and understand how he could have done so much harm."
The accused took his seat in the dock for the start of the trial, demurely stating his name to the judges and confirming his profession as "surgeon".
In 2005, Le Scouarnec was given a four-month suspended jail sentence for possession of child pornography.