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German authorities declared the man an official suspect in the disappearance of a British toddler in 2007 in Portugal. The convicted child abuser and drug trader was identified as a potential suspect in 2020.
Formally Madeleine McCann remains a missing person, though German prosecutors have indicated they believe her no longer to be alive
Portuguese prosecutors said on Thursday a German man had been formally identified as a suspect in the disappearance of British toddler Madeleine McCann in 2007.
German authorities declared the man an official suspect at Portugal's request, Portuguese prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said the investigation has been carried out with cooperation from British and German authorities.
In Portugal, the statute of limitations for such crimes is 15 years. In the case of McCann's disappearance, the statute of limitations will expire next month.
The child's parents on Friday said they "welcome the news" that Portuguese, German and British authorities have identified an "arguido," or main suspect, calling it a sign of "progress in the investigation."
In a statement on their website, the McCanns wrote, "It is important to note the 'arguido' has not yet been charged with any specific crime related to Madeleine's disappearance," adding, "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."
Madeleine went missing at the age of 3 from an apartment rented by her family in the holiday resort of Praia da Luz in Portugal's southern Algarve region on May 3, 2007.
Portuguese prosecutors initially named the child's parents as suspects in 2007. The McCanns were later cleared.
German police revealed in 2020 that they were investigating a man over Madeleine's disappearance, saying they believe he killed her. The man was already in prison at the time.
German police identified the man as a convicted child abuser and drug trader.
The suspect is currently serving a 7-year sentence in northern Germany for the 2005 rape of a 72-year-old American citizen in Praia da Luz.
Germany had been a focus of the investigations from very early in the case, with Gerry and Kate McCann appearing in the country to appeal for help more than once, including this 2013 TV appearance that led to the current suspect being linked to the case
According to Reuters, court documents show that the man lived in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007, where he burgled hotels and apartments. The documents cited by Reuters said he falsified passports and was caught stealing diesel from a Portuguese harbor.
His lawyer, Friedrich Fülscher, told German newspaper Bild on Thursday that he would advise against "overestimating" his client being formally designated a suspect, arguing this was an "artificial procedural grab" by Portuguese prosecutors, who are racing against the clock to avoid the statute of limitations expiring.
German police received their first tip-off linking the suspect to Madeleine's case in 2013, following her parents appearing on a national unsolved crime show to appeal for help.
Editor's note: Deutsche Welle follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting suspects' identities in many cases.
js,sdi/msh (AFP, Reuters, Lusa)