German prosecutors have said they have evidence that a man jailed for another crime killed British toddler Madeleine McCann 13 years ago – just not enough to charge the suspect in court.
Prosecutors last week said that they “assumed” McCann, who went missing in 2007 while on holiday in Portugal with her family, was dead. She was aged 3 at the time of her disappearance.
The long-running mystery of what happened to the missing toddler has captivated people around the world. German police announced last week that a man jailed in the city of Kiel for an unrelated crime had become a suspect, in a major breakthrough after years of little progress.
The development came after police found a potential link between McCann’s disappearance and that of a five-year-old girl named Inga in Germany in 2015.
In an interview with CNN Thursday, Braunschweig prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters gave few details on the evidence his office had obtained but said they had “findings” that showed the 43-year-old male suspect had murdered McCann.
“It is actually like this — we have a specific suspect, we know the name, we have a picture, we know where he is at the moment, namely in custody in Germany, and we actually have findings that suggest that he is Madeleine McCann’s murderer,” he said.
“At the moment, there is insufficient evidence to convict.”
Although he did not mention the suspect by name, CNN has confirmed his identity with someone close to the investigation as Christian B. German media has published the same name and photographs identifying him.
Hundreds of clues have emerged in Germany and the UK after a link to the suspect and new details were publicized, Wolters said.
“We have a well-founded suspicion, but this suspicion is below the sufficient level we need to actually bring charges to court.”
Under German law, a murder case can only be opened if there is enough evidence that would make a conviction more likely than an acquittal, Wolters said.
Friedrich Fuelscher, a lawyer representing the suspect, told CNN Thursday that investigators had not yet approached his client.
“On the advice of his defense council he is remaining silent about the accusations,” Fuelscher said, adding that he was waiting to get access to the police file from state prosecutors, after which his legal team “will further evaluate.”
The suspect has also been moved to another cell alone for his own safety, said Oliver Breuer, a spokesman at the justice ministry in the state of Schleswig-Holstein. The suspect “is highly aware of the international press interest,” he said.
‘We assume Maddie McCann is actually dead’
Wolters said that prosecutors have not come across any evidence to suggest McCann was still alive.
“Based on the knowledge we have … we assume that Maddie McCann is actually dead,” he said, adding there was “no reasonable doubt” that the girl had died.
“We of course understand that the parents, at least until the body is found, for example, have the hope that the girl is actually still alive somewhere, but there is actually, from our point of view, no knowledge that would even begin to support that.”
He also denied UK media reports that there was evidence suggesting McCann had been killed shortly after her abduction, even though that was most likely the case.
Prosecutors are also “almost certain” the suspect had committed sex crimes against other people, he said.
“We do not know in detail whether this is a matter of British victims or of German or possible other nationalities. But we are very sure that there are more victims,” he said.
The suspect had lived in Portugal’s Algarve region from 1995 to 2007, and also resided in a house in Praia da Luz, the resort town from which McCann disappeared, prosecutors said earlier.
As German prosecutors reported that new evidence had emerged against the suspect, Portuguese prosecutors on Wednesday confirmed the same suspect had two previous convictions in the country, one for disobedience and another for theft, and had served time in prison.
London’s Metropolitan Police last week revealed details of two cars linked to the suspect around the time of the disappearance, and called on the public to step forward with any information about them.
In a statement sent to CNN, the missing girl’s parents last week thanked the “police forces involved for their continued efforts in the search for Madeleine.”
“All we have ever wanted is to find her, uncover the truth and bring those responsible to justice. We will never give up hope of finding Madeleine alive but whatever the outcome may be, we need to know as we need to find peace,” they said.
CNN’s Angela Dewan and Sarah Dean contributed from London.