Paraguay police quiz vehicle owner in case of missing German girls

·3-min read

The owner of a vehicle used by a couple traveling through Paraguay with two missing German girls was questioned Wednesday by police, as representatives of distraught parents urged the fugitives to turn themselves in.

The owner, identified as Diego Martinez, confirmed having lent a truck a month ago to the wanted couple, Paraguayan Andreas Rainer Egler, 46, and his wife Anna Maria Egler, 35.

They disappeared after traveling to Paraguay late last year with his daughter Clara, 10, and her daughter Lara Valentina Blank, 11.

But neither Clara's mother nor Lara's father had given their consent to the journey, and now the girls are officially listed in Germany as missing.

"The suspect made several contradictory statements," said Commissioner Cristian Caceres of the police's anti-kidnapping unit, which brought Martinez to the capital Asuncion for questioning.

"First, he said the couple was introduced to him by a relative, but then he said it was a client," Caceres said, describing him as a car mechanic in the city of Villarrica, 150 kilometers (95 miles) southeast of the capital.

Martinez was eventually released in the afternoon, said Carina Sanchez of a unit specializing in human trafficking and sexual exploitation of minors.

"The man provided a lot of information," she said. "There were some issues that forced us to arrest him, but it was for the sole purpose of providing all the information he has regarding this couple."

Martinez's vehicle, a Nissan pickup, was rented by Egler, a German citizen who is accused of illegally taking the girls last November to Paraguay, where they were last seen in January.

Egler is now listed as a fugitive along with his new wife. Anna Maria.

Clara's mother, Anne Maja Reiniger-Egler, is in Asuncion leading the search. At a Monday press conference she gave permission for details of the case to be published in local media.

- Life on the run -

Reiniger's lawyer said Wednesday the tactic had already borne fruit and that the fugitives had sent a post on messaging app Telegram calling on Clara's mother to stop the search.

"You demand that our clients agree to abandon and leave their children behind. Mrs Anne Maja Reiniger and (Lara's father) Mr Filip Blank hardly recognize their girls in the videos," said lawyer Stephan Schultheiss, addressing the couple in German and Spanish.

In the message to the fugitives, the lawyer warned that the search was being carried out whether his client wanted it or not.

"The authorities are investigating in Paraguay, Germany and through Interpol, all over the world," he said.

"The well-being of the girls is not compatible with a life on the run that you have chosen. End this extremely stressful situation for everyone. Please show yourselves," Schultheiss said.

The lawyer reiterated that Clara's mother and Lara's father were not seeking punishment.

"They want to find a solution that allows everyone a peaceful future and a return to normal life. The opportunity is open to you," he declared.

Schultheiss has said it was believed the couple could have hidden among anti-vaccine German colonies in Paraguay.

"We are convinced that the girls and the couple are still in Paraguay," said Mario Vallejos, head of the anti-kidnapping unit. He feared, however, that they could leave for Argentina or Brazil through the joint border at Iguazu.

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