Europe

Maëlys de Araujo: Man charged with kidnap of missing girl

A photo taken on 28 August 2017 shows an appeal for witnesses poster for Maëlys, a nine-year-old girl who disappeared during a wedding party on 26-27 August in Pont-de-Beauvoisin, eastern France Image copyright AFP
Image caption Maëlys attended the wedding with her parents

A man has been placed under formal investigation on suspicion of kidnapping a nine-year-old girl during a wedding in the French Alps.

DNA of the missing girl, Maëlys de Araujo, was found on the dashboard of the man's car, his lawyer said.

He said the man admitted she was in his car on the night she disappeared but that did not prove his guilt.

She was last seen on 27 August in a children's area at a hall in Pont-de-Beauvoisin, north of Grenoble.

Police, search-and-rescue teams, divers and cavers have scoured the area but with no breakthrough.

'The girl got into the car'

The suspect was one of two guests at the wedding who were detained last week because of inconsistencies in their statements to police but were later released.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Grenoble's prosecutor said a 34-year-old man had been charged with "kidnapping, illegal confinement or arbitrary detention of a minor of less than 15 years".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Local volunteers have joined the search for the girl

The man "persisted in his denials and explanations", the statement said, adding that "this did not convince the investigative judges, who decided to hold him".

The suspect's lawyer, Bernard Méraud, told AFP his client had said "the girl had got into the car with a little boy on the back seat to see if (the man's) dog was in the boot".

'I've not raised a monster'

Several days ago Mr Méraud revealed that his client had washed his Audi A3 car the day after the wedding as he planned to sell it and had already found a buyer.

In an interview with French radio on Monday, he questioned the relevance of the DNA trace found on the dashboard.

The girl's DNA could have been transferred to the dashboard by his client, he argued, so the discovery did not necessarily mean his client was guilty. "He protests his innocence, he cites an unfortunate combination of events," he said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Police have gradually extended their search since the alarm was raised on 27 August

The suspect's name has not yet been released but already his mother has given an interview insisting he had nothing to do with the disappearance and would not harm anyone. "I've not raised a monster, he's never been a monster," she told RTL radio.

He is described as an odd-job man on sick leave. Investigators have revealed he had two scratches, to his arm and knee, which he said was as a result of gardening.

The man was one of 180 wedding guests who were questioned by police when Maëlys de Araujo disappeared. Detectives also took statements from 70 other people attending two other events nearby.

Sniffer dogs followed the scent of Maëlys's cuddly toy to a car park, raising fears she was kidnapped and taken away by car.

A source close to the investigation said last week that the area being searched was growing.

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