Parents of Madeleine McCann welcome that Christian Brueckner is made suspect as he is grilled in prison

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Kate and Gerry McCann said they "welcome the news" Portuguese authorities have declared a German man a formal suspect in their daughter Madeleine’s disappearance.

German paedophile Christian Brueckner was handed a document in prison informing him he was being made an arguido over the British youngster’s May 3 2007 disappearance from her Algarve holiday apartment before being quizzed for the first time about it.

He was asked “where were you the night Madeleine McCann disappeared?” during a barrage of questions fired at him in prison after Portuguese prosecutors made him a formal suspect over the unsolved crime.

In a statement on Friday Madeleine’s parents, said: “We welcome the news that the Portuguese authorities have declared a German man an 'arguido' in relation to the disappearance of our beloved daughter Madeleine.

“This reflects progress in the investigation, being conducted by the Portuguese, German and British authorities. We are kept informed of developments by the Metropolitan Police.

“It is important to note the 'arguido' has not yet been charged with any specific crime related to Madeleine's disappearance.

“Even though the possibility may be slim, we have not given up hope that Madeleine is still alive and we will be reunited with her.”

During his grilling Brueckner was asked to account for his whereabouts the night Madeleine vanished as her parents ate tapas nearby with friends, Portuguese sources said.

German authorities acting on behalf of Portuguese prosecutors also asked him: “If you weren’t by the apartment she disappeared from that night, where were you?”

Sources close to the case in Portugal also revealed on Friday that Brueckner answered none of the questions put to him during his jail interrogation, retaining the right to silence afforded him by his new ‘arguido’ status.

It is the first time Brueckner has faced a formal quiz over Madeleine McCann’s disappearance.

Madeleine McCann - In pictures

His legal representative is thought to have been present during the key development in the long-running case, which has seen German authorities home in on the convicted rapist as their prime suspect but had not so far led to him being made a formal suspect in Portugal.

The questions were prepared by prosecutors in the Algarve resort of Portimao and included in a formal International Letter of Request sent to German authorities ahead of Thursday night’s confirmation he had been made an official suspect in Portugal.

On Thursday night sources close to the case said they expected no new developments to take place until results were back from ongoing forensic work on samples taken from a VW Volkswagen van Breuckner drove while he lived on the Algarve which featured in a police appeal about his vehicles.

One Portuguese insider described the results as “potentially crucial.”

But he added: “They could also be the final throw of the dice. At the moment it’s a bit of a wait-and-see situation.”

Portuguese prosecutors confirmed their decision to make Christian Brueckner an official suspect over Madeleine McCann’s disappearance late on Thursday night in their first formal statement on the decision.

The unexpected move is believed to be linked to statute of limitations legislation in Portugal which could have prevented a successful prosecution against Brueckner in the country where Madeleine vanished after May 3 this year.

Unlike in Germany, the authors of serious crimes like murders and kidnappings cannot generally be prosecuted in Portugal after 15 years have passed.

The 15th anniversary of Madeleine’s May 2007 disappearance had already been flagged up by Portuguese lawyers as a key date in the unsolved mystery.

Kate and Gerry McCann (PA Wire)
Kate and Gerry McCann (PA Wire)

Brueckner was informed he was now an ‘arguido’ in Oldenburg Prison in northern Germany where he is serving seven years for raping an American pensioner in 2005 in Praia da Luz.

It gives Portuguese authorities the ability to charge him further down the line by effectively ‘stopping the clock’ on the time limitation for bringing a prosecution if German prosecutors decide they haven’t got enough evidence to charge the paedophile they regard as their prime suspect.

A written statement issued by the Portimao section of the Faro Department of Criminal Investigation and Prosecution (DIAP) late last night/on Thursday night and titled: “Maddie case. Constitution of an Arguido”, said: “As part of the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007, a person was made an arguido on Wednesday.

“The man was made an arguido by the German authorities in execution of a request for international judicial cooperation issued by the Public Ministry of Portugal.

“The inquiry is led by the Portimao section of the DIAP in Faro with the assistance of the Policia Judiciaria police.

“The investigation has been carried out with the cooperation of the English and German authorities.”

The country’s PJ police force has yet to officially comment.

Portuguese sources have said the legal grounds for making Brueckner an arguido include the fact that he allegedly confessed to a friend he had snatched Madeleine and mobile phone records placed him in Praia da Luz the night she vanished as her parents ate tapas nearby.

The German drifter, who spent several years living on the Algarve and completed a nine-month prison sentence on the Algarve for petrol theft five months before the British youngster disappeared, stayed silent after being informed he was now a formal suspect in Portugal.

Vanished: Madeleine McCann
Vanished: Madeleine McCann

Fears the opportunity to get justice for Maddie and her parents could be dealt a hammer blow in a fortnight’s time despite a continuing Portuguese probe into the unsolved crime, were first raised nearly two years ago.

Madeleine McCann’s family’s lawyer Rogerio Alves warned in July 2020 Portugal’s 15-year limit on prosecutions meant there was less than two years left to take action against Brueckner, who German authorities were treating as their chief suspect.

And Portuguese legal experts admitted at the start of the month the chances of putting anyone behind bars over Madeleine’s disappearance would be “greatly reduced” after the day Kate and Gerry McCann remember their eldest daughter exactly a decade and a half on from the holiday mystery.

Lawyer Spencer Dohner, of MDM Legal, said at the time before the latest development in the case: “I think the likeliest scenario with the information we have right now is that it all falls after 15 years.

“Portugal has a statute of limitations which means the authors of crimes punishable by a maximum prison sentence of more than 10 years cannot generally be prosecuted once 15 years has passed.

“This of course means the ability to prosecute in Portugal in the Madeleine McCann case after May 3 this year could be terminated.

“If she were found alive and had been the victim of sex crimes as a minor, legal proceedings could take place until she was 23.

“But if Madeleine is dead as the German authorities believe and was murdered in Portugal around the time she vanished, the cut-off point for prosecution would be the 15th anniversary of her disappearance under normal circumstances barring any technical issues that could potentially pause the time limit like the Covid pandemic.

“There are some arguments that could be debated but my perception and understanding of the law is that it’s 15 years and that’s it.

“If we had a situation where a body was found and we had reasons to believe it was murder and the authorities here had a person to accuse, we would have a limitation of those 15 years.”

Another Lisbon-based lawyer, who asked not to be named, added: “Police and prosecutors in Portugal will be acutely aware of the time limits hanging over the Maddie case.

“Our statute of limitations brings with it the probability that within a matter of weeks, the person responsible for her disappearance may never be brought to justice in the country where she vanished even with an arrest and confession.”

The decision to make Brueckner an arguido in Portugal came as a surprise because a fortnight ago sources close to the case there were saying they viewed it as “highly unlikely.”

Portugal’s Attorney General agreed to reopen the investigation into Madeleine McCann’s disappearance in October 2013, more than five years after it was archived, following a formal request from the Policia Judiciaria.

PJ chief Helena Monteiro is still heading an ongoing Portuguese police ‘cold case’ review from the northern city of Porto.

In October 2013 she quizzed the widow of a former worker at the tourist complex where Madeleine’s parents were staying when she vanished.

Serial thief Euclides Lopes Monteiro, who died in a tractor accident in August 2009, has never been publicly ruled out as a suspect despite calls from his family for police to confirm his innocence.

Late last year it was reported Brueckner would be charged in Germany with three separate sex crimes this year including the rape of an Irish woman in 2004 on the Algarve.

It emerged in June 2020 police homed in on the prime suspect in the Madeleine McCann case after he told a pal in a pub: “I snatched her.”

He allegedly confessed to kidnapping the youngster while sitting in a German bar on the 10th anniversary of her abduction.

Reports at the time said he and a pal were watching a TV news report on the case in 2017 when he said he knew what had happened to her.

He is also said to have boasted that he had “snatched her.”

Madeleine McCann
Madeleine McCann

Portuguese authorities had insisted earlier this month they would continue to investigate Madeleine McCann’s disappearance despite reports Scotland Yard was planning to end its Operation Grange probe after eleven years.

A spokesman for Portugal’s Attorney General’s Office, asked about the future of the probe led by a prosecutor based in the Algarve resort of Portimao, said: “The investigation is proceeding, with the inquiry not having a final conclusion yet.”

Portuguese police sources also said closing their long-running ‘cold case’ review was “completely out of the question.”

Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry were made arguidos in September 2007 after Robert Murat.

But their status was lifted in July 2008 when Portugal archived its first investigation.

Brueckner claimed at the weekend he had yet to be questioned about Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, almost two years after German police said they believed he had murdered her and they had “concrete evidence” the British youngster was dead.

He said in a letter to Mail Online sent ahead of this week’s arguido development: “‘I haven’t been questioned on any allegations as required by German law, but it is obvious the German authorities and especially the Department of Justice, are providing the media with information about me that is likely to make me appear contemptible.

‘This also applies to the authorities at the correctional facility in which I am currently being held.”

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