21 Oct 2013

Roma couple charged with abducting mystery girl Maria

A Roma couple in Greece are charged with the abduction of a mystery blonde, green eyed girl and procuring false documents.

The pair were detained on charges of abduction and document fraud following their arrest last week.

Kostas Katsavos, lawyer representing Roma couple said: “The decision is for the two to remain in custody. We respect the decision of the court.”

Both have denied the charges, claiming they adopted the child while she was just days old.

Police released photographs of the pair and named them as Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou, or Selini Sali – as the woman had two separate sets of identity papers.

The girl, named as Maria, was found when police raided a Gypsy, or Roma, encampment near the central Greek town of Farsala last week. Her DNA shows she is not the couple’s child.

Police earlier surrounded the back entrance to the courthouse, where the couple were taken to a holding cell until they were moved to the second floor to face the prosecutor.

Before their transfer a police officer conducted a search with a sniffer dog inside the courthouse.

One of the couple’s lawyers Maretta Palavra told journalists outside the courthouse: “We have a difficult road (ahead).”

At the front of the building in central Larissa the children and relatives of the Roma couple waited after speaking with the lawyers.

They refused to speak to journalists, angered over the claims that the couple abducted the child.

We have a difficult road (ahead) – Roma couple’s lawyer

A dental examination showed the child is older than previously thought, 5-6 years old instead of four, Smile of the Child charity said.

The couple’s lawyer said the young blonde, green eyed girl had been adopted by the couple, although illegally, from her biological mother.

Read more: police issue international appeal over mystery blonde child

He said: “Our clients’ claim is that ‘we never abducted this child, we just adopted her’, in a way that was not legal. That we can confess,” said lawyer Kostas Katsavos after visiting the Roma couple in the police headquarters in Larissa.

Investigators were eagerly searching, he said, to find the biological mother.

“We are in the middle of an investigation, in the middle of a private investigation, we hope that tonight or tomorrow we will find the mother,” said Mr Katsavos.

‘Conflicting accounts’

During initial questioning, the couple gave at least five conflicting accounts of how the child ended up with them, including that she was found outside a supermarket, police said.

Mr Katsavos said the child was given to the couple by her biological mother, who could not afford to care for her. The adoption itself was illegal, he admits, but the couple have kept the child as one of their own and had no intention of trying to sell her.

“If they wanted to do so they probably will sell it; so far the child is about five years old and it is still in this family. They love her and they care (for) her as their own child,” he said.

Mr Katsavos denies that this is a case of child trafficking by the couple.

The other children and relatives of the Roma couple told Reuters TV they were concerned for Maria and wanted to see her as she was part of the family.

International appeal

Police have sent Interpol a file with all the evidence they have on the girl, including DNA samples. They have also contacted international groups and charities that deal with lost or abducted children.

“This has never happened before – to have found the child and to be looking for the parents,” said Natalie Karakouliafi of the Smile of the Child charity, which is looking after the girl.

In response to an international appeal, it has received more than 5,000 calls since Friday from people looking for their missing children or offering clues.

The charity received reports that the girl was forced to beg for money in the streets but its director, Costas Giannopoulos, said she was in good health.

Read more: Greek plea over mystery girl found in Roma gypsy camp

“She was frightened and cried herself to sleep. She is not looking for anyone and she is devoted to play,” he added.

“It has shaken everyone and has helped bring to light a major problem – just how easy it is to traffic children”.

They have also contacted international groups and charities that deal with lost or abducted children.

The girl speaks just a few words in the Roma dialect and Greek, and police think she may be of northern or eastern European origin, possibly from Scandinavia or Bulgaria.

Parallels have been drawn to the case of Madeleine McCann, who vanished while on holiday in Portugal in 2007, when she was three years old.

Interpol has 38 girls younger than 6 on its missing persons database but none of them reportedly fit the mystery girl’s description.

The Roma community

Gypsies living in a Greek camp are worried they will be all stigmatised as child traffickers after the couple were arrested.

Their community is at the centre of a child abduction case, with a gypsy or Roma couple accused of abducting a blonde, blue-eyed girl who is thought to be aged about four.

The Roma, a poor people in a country devastated by an economic crisis, try to make a living in the camp on the outskirts of the central town of Farsala by selling fruits, carpets, blankets, baskets and shoes at local markets.