Paul Schäfer spent ten years in Argentina, hiding from Chilean authorities investigating sexual abuse charges against him. He was discovered last year, and brought back to Chile to stand trial for the mistreatment of 25 children in his former cult colony, ‘Colonia Dignidad’.
In addition, the judge ordered Schäfer to pay reparations totaling $1.4 million to 11 of his victims.
A lawyer for the victims said Wednesday's "conviction ends 40 years of impunity and means justice for all the victims who, at the time, had no way to tell how they had been victimized."
Schäfer apparently lured children from local farms into the cult’s free school and clinic. It was only when Chilean mothers came forward in 1997 to complain that an investigation was opened.
Schäfer founded the religious farming commune ‘Colonia Dignidad’ in the 1960’s, when he traveled over to Chile with around 300 other German immigrants.
The group was largely isolated from the outside world: no telephones or televisions, and Schäfer was apparently regarded as the cult’s God. At the time he left Germany, Schäfer was also wanted on child abuse charges here. However, Berlin did not issue any extradition requests when he was arrested in Argentina last year.
According to former cult members, Paul Schäfer had been abusing children for years, forcing them to live away from their parents and closing off contact with the outside world. In April last year, former cult members apologized and asked for forgiveness for 40 years of sex and human rights abuses in their colony. They claimed they were brainwashed by Schäfer.
The commune has since renamed itself ‘Villa Bavaria’, and only began re-establishing regular contact with the outside world last year.
Paul Schäfer also faces human rights abuse charges, for aiding the regime of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. He apparently fostered close relations with the dictator, and allowed Pinochet to use his farming commune as a detention and torture centre for political prisoners.
Government investigators uncovered a weapons cache, and a secret cemetery on the property of the former cult last year.