German man identified as suspect in case of missing UK girl

LONDON (AP) — British police said Wednesday that a German man has been identified as a suspect in the case of a 3-year-old British girl who disappeared 13 years ago while on holiday in Portugal.

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The Metropolitan Police did not name the man, but said he is 43 and was in and around the Praia da Luz resort area on the Algarve coast at the time Madeleine McCann disappeared on May 3, 2007.

The long-running case of McCann, who vanished shortly before her fourth birthday, has intrigued Britain for years. Her parents say Madeleine went missing after they had left her and her twin siblings asleep in their holiday complex while they had dinner with friends at a nearby restaurant.

An investigation by British police has identified more than 600 people as being potentially significant. Officers were tipped off about the German suspect following a 2017 appeal, 10 years after the girl went missing.

Police said the suspect, described as white with short, blond hair and a slim build, was linked to a camper van seen in the Algarve in 2007 and was believed to be in the resort area in the days before and after May 3 that year.

Christian Hoppe of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office told German public broadcaster ZDF that the suspect, a German citizen, is currently imprisoned in Germany for a sexual crime. At the time of Madeleine’s disappearance he was 30 years old. He spent numerous years in Portugal and has two previous convictions for “sexual contact with girls.”

Hoppe said German police aren’t ruling out a sexual motive. They said whoever abducted the girl may have broken into the holiday apartment and then spontaneously committed the kidnapping.

The suspect is being investigated on suspicion of murder by prosecutors in the German city of Braunschweig, where he was last registered before moving abroad.

Police from Britain, Germany and Portugal launched a new joint appeal for information in the case Wednesday. They asked to come forward anyone who had seen two vehicles linked to the suspect — the Volkswagen camper van and a Jaguar. They also sought information on two Portuguese phone numbers, including one believed to have been used by the suspect on the day of Madeleine’s disappearance.

The new appeal was issued because “the information that we have gained in the course of our investigation increasingly leads us to the conviction that the suspect might have committed the crime," Hoppe said.

Hoppe added that German police aren’t ruling out additional victims and also are appealing for information from anyone who believes they may have been sexually attacked by the suspect between 1995 and 2007.

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