Russian prosecutors accuse foreign adoption agencies of violating laws

A top Russian prosecutor has accused more than a dozen foreign adoption agencies of operating with expired licenses and violating other laws in the latest dispute in the long-standing controversy over whether foreigners should be adopting Russian children.

Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky ordered that agencies that have violated the law be denied registration in Russia, according to a statement posted on the prosecutor-general's Web site Monday.

Fridinsky said that out of the 87 foreign adoption agencies currently operating in Russia only one has a valid accreditation, while the rest have expired licenses. Nevertheless, 17 such firms, mainly from Europe and North America, have continued operating in 2004-2005, Fridinsky said.

Besides lacking accreditation, many agencies violated other Russian laws, such as labor and bookkeeping regulations, the statement said. Fridinsky also accused several firms of failing to look after the orphans after they had been adopted. The statement also charged that employees at several agencies have been extorting money from adoptive parents.

In the statement, which was addressed to Education Minister Andrei Fursenko, Fridinsky ordered that education officials act promptly to prolong licenses of adoption firms with expired registration and strip law-violating agencies of their accreditation. Fridinsky also said that those Russian officials who have helped such agencies operate illegally must be punished.

Many of Russia's orphans are living in cash-starved children's homes where educational opportunities and medical care are limited. Homes are found for about 15,000 children every year, with about half adopted by families outside Russia.

Russian families rarely adopt because of a social stigma, yet Russian nationalists have often accused foreigners of "buying" Russian children, and cases of abuse by foreign adoptive parents have been widely reported in the Russian media.

MARIA DANILOVA, Associated Press Writer

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