Spanish prosecutors are investigating 849 cases of newborn children stolen from their mothers and sold to other families for profit, the country's attorney general said Friday.
Candido Conde-Pumpido said 162 cases had already been referred for trial and only 38 have been dropped for a lack of evidence.
It is well documented that babies were taken from women who had supported the defeated Republican side after Spain's 1936-39 civil war. However, some of the baby trafficking cases are as recent as the mid-1990s.
"A great many Spaniards" had been affected by the scandal, which took place "over a prolonged period of time," Conde-Pumpido said at a news conference.
His office was alerted to the cases by ANADIR, an association of people searching for lost children or parents.
Enrique Vila, a lawyer representing ANADIR, said what had begun as a politically motivated punishment for Republican sympathizers eventually became a purely moneymaking scheme that persisted illegally well past Spain's return to democracy in 1978.
Investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzon has calculated there could have been 30,000 baby thefts in Spain in the wake of the civil war.
Vila has argued that there was more or less a nationwide network behind it, involving doctors, nurses, midwives, nuns and intermediaries that would find children for couples that wanted them. Mothers were told that their babies were stillborn.
"It is not possible to attribute this to a single organization," said Conde-Pumpido, speaking in the eastern city of Valencia following a meeting with prosecutors general from Spain's 17 autonomous regions.