LYON (AFP) - The man charged with kidnapping a nine-year-old French girl during a wedding in the Alps has admitted during police questioning that she got into his car but denies abducting her, his lawyer told AFP on Monday (Sept 4).
A week after Maelys de Araujo went missing in the eastern village of Pont-de-Beauvoisin, a 34-year-old man was remanded in custody Sunday (Sept 3) on charges of “kidnapping, illegal confinement or arbitrary detention”.
The man was a guest at the wedding that Maelys was attending with her parents when she went missing in the early hours of Sunday, August 27.
Her DNA was found in his car, which was parked next to the community hall where the celebrations were held and was cleaned the day after.
The suspect’s lawyer Bernard Meraud said his client told police that Maelys “got into his car with a little boy, onto the back seat, to see if his (the suspect’s) dog was in the boot".
Meraud confirmed that a trace of her DNA had been found on the dashboard but that his client “completely denied” kidnapping her.
Meraud said several DNA traces, including that of his client, had been found on the dashboard and that someone who was in contact with the child could have “transferred” her DNA in to the vehicle.
He also suggested that the children could have climbed into the car unbeknown to the driver, noting that all the windows were left down during the party.
The disappearance of the little girl, who was wearing a white dress and carrying a cuddly toy, has dominated French headlines over the past week.
Sniffer dogs lost the scent from her toy in the car park outside the venue, raising fears she was kidnapped and whisked away by car.
Scores of police, search and rescue teams, divers and cavers have been combing the woods and lakes in the area about 50km north of Grenoble for her but failed to turn up any sign. Several hundred residents organised another search on Saturday that also proved fruitless.
Speaking to France’s RTL radio the suspect’s mother insisted her son was innocent.
“He’s a good boy who wouldn’t hurt a soul,” said the woman, who was not identified by name, accusing the authorities of “hounding him because they have to find a culprit".
The suspect was arrested last week along with a friend over inconsistencies in their account of the night’s events, but the pair were later released.
According to France Info radio, he is a former soldier who lives with his parents a few kilometres from Pont-de-Beauvoisin and does various odd jobs.
Investigators became interested in him after it emerged he had been missing from the party around the time Maelys disappeared and washed his car the day after the wedding. His lawyer said that he cleaned the car with a view to selling it.
On Sunday, he was re-arrested after the police uncovered fresh evidence.
“Confronted with testimony, findings and scientific evidence, he persisted in his denials and explanations,” the prosecutor’s office in Grenoble said.
“This did not convince the investigative judges, who decided to hold him,” it added.
Police have interviewed about 250 people since Sunday, including most of the 180 guests at the wedding, as well as several others who attended parties held the same night at a nearby bar and church hall.