Is this man a fugitive rape suspect who faked own death or victim of mistaken identity?

·5-min read

It's a bizarre case that has made headlines around the world as a court considers this question: is a man arrested in Scotland an American rape suspect who faked his own death or the victim of mistaken identity?

The man accused of being fugitive Nicholas Rossi has been ordered to appear at a hearing in Edinburgh on Thursday as prosecutors seek to have him extradited to the US.

Frequently pictured wearing an oxygen mask after being treated for COVID, the man at the centre of the case denies being Rossi and says he is an Irishman called Arthur Knight who has never been to America.

Here, Sky News looks at the details of the legal saga that has lasted months as questions about his identity could finally be answered.

Who is Nicholas Rossi?

Rossi is wanted in connection with the rape of a 21-year-old woman in Utah in September 2008, and is also alleged to have assaulted women in Rhode Island, Ohio and Massachusetts.

Authorities in Utah say he fled the US to avoid prosecution and attempted to lead investigators to believe he was dead.

They list multiple aliases he allegedly used including Nicholas Alahverdian, Nick Alan, Nicholas Brown, Arthur Brown and Arthur Knight.

Under the name Nicholas Alahverdian, he had been a vocal critic of Rhode Island's child welfare system and campaigned for reforms after claiming he was abused as a boy, local media said.

But in an apparent tragic turn of events in December 2019, Alahverdian told reporters that he had late-stage non-Hodgkin lymphoma and had weeks to live.

Two months later, various news outlets reported that Alahverdian had died at the age of 32, with a post on a memorial website saying his ashes had been scattered at sea.

The obituary on the site included a tribute from the mayor of Providence in Rhode Island which hailed Alahverdian as a "beloved community leader" who had "the unwavering admiration and respect of many".

Arrest in Scotland after COVID treatment

The man alleged to be Rossi was arrested in Glasgow in December.

It is understood he was being treated at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital after contracting COVID and had needed to be intubated due to the severity of his illness.

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said if he had not contracted coronavirus and required medical care, he would probably still be living "off the grid".

An extradition hearing heard he made several attempts to leave the hospital with oxygen canisters in December, including hiring a private ambulance and offering to pay £100 to a taxi to take him home.

The extradition hearings have heard that police and hospital staff identified the man as Rossi from tattoos on his body.

He denied this in a TV interview in March but refused to show his forearm to offer proof, saying he was "exhausted".

After his initial arrest, he was bailed but was then re-arrested in January after failing to appear at an extradition hearing.

He was bailed again and appeared at hearings in April in a wheelchair, wearing an oxygen mask, fedora hat and sunglasses.

'I thought he was dead', says ex-partner of Nicholas Rossi

Michelle Minnaar told Sky News she had a five-week relationship with Nicholas Rossi in 2017 after the pair met on an online dating website.

She said Rossi - who she also knew as Nicholas Alahverdian - portrayed himself as a "Harvard-educated lobbyist" who lived in Rhode Island when he first contacted her online.

Describing him as "charming" and "very persuasive" when he first approached her, she added: "He was very well read, well spoken, intellectual - basically my type of person.

"He just came across as a normal guy."

As their relationship developed online, Ms Minnaar - an award-winning food blogger - said Rossi flew over to the UK to meet her in person in June 2017 and he stayed at her home before she ended their contact in July that year.

After he left her home, she said she "kept tabs" on Rossi by doing internet searches two or three times a year and saw the reports of his apparent death in 2020.

When news emerged that he had allegedly been found in Scotland in December, she said: "I almost fell off my chair because I thought he was dead."

What has 'Arthur Knight' said?

The man alleged to be Nicholas Rossi claims authorities seeking his extradition have made a mistake.

He insists he is Arthur Knight, an Irish-born orphan who fled to Britain on a ferry aged 14.

He told the Times he was "a bit of a Del Boy" when he arrived in London as a teenager, buying and selling second-hand books, and has lived a law-abiding life in Britain.

He has been accompanied at court hearings by his wife Miranda Knight, who he claims to have married in Bristol two years ago.

He has previously denied being a rapist, telling the BBC: "I have many flaws but to call me a rapist is so out of this world and unexpected that it's almost comical that someone would call me that."

Will 'Arthur Knight' appear in court on Thursday?

A spokesman for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service told Sky News the man alleged to be Rossi has been "directed to appear personally" at this Thursday's hearing.

He failed to appear at a court hearing last week after his wife claimed he had COVID again - with prosecutors saying they would seek an arrest warrant if he misses the next hearing.

He has been ordered to bring a passport, birth certificate or other documents to prove his identity.

However his appearance at the next hearing appears uncertain after Sky News received a text message purporting to be from his wife which said he was in hospital on Tuesday.

At a previous hearing, solicitor Becky Houston said she was representing "Mr Rossi" - only for him to interrupt and ask her to call him "Mr Knight".

Ms Houston confirmed to Sky News that she no longer represented her former client.

Sky News attempted to contact his lawyers but a spokesman for Edinburgh Sheriff Court said he no longer had legal representation.

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