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article imageGirl 'got into my car', says French wedding kidnap suspect

By Pierre GLACHANT (AFP)     Sep 4, 2017 in Crime

The man charged with kidnapping a nine-year-old French girl who went missing during a wedding in the Alps has admitted she got into his car but denies abducting her, his lawyer said Monday.

Maelys de Araujo vanished in the early hours of Sunday, August 27, in the southeastern village of Pont-de-Beauvoisin, where she was attending a wedding with her parents. A weeklong search of the area yielded no sign of her.

A 34-year-old local man, who was among the guests, was remanded in custody Sunday on charges of "kidnapping, illegal confinement or arbitrary detention" after her DNA was found in his car.

The DNA was found mixed in with that of the driver on the dashboard of the vehicle, which was parked next to the venue and was cleaned the day after the celebrations.

The suspect has denied any wrongdoing, saying Maelys briefly got into the car with another child and later returned to the party.

"The little girl and a little boy approached the car, next to which he (the suspect) was smoking a cigarette. Given there been a conversation during the evening about his dogs, the two children asked to see whether they were in the car," his lawyer Bernard Meraud told AFP.

The children climbed into the back seat, peeked into the boot, and then seeing there were no dogs, "got out again and everyone returned to the community hall," Meraud said.

He did not explain how the DNA trace came to be on the dashboard, saying it could have been "transferred" there by someone who had contact with the child.

The disappearance of Maelys, who was wearing a white dress and carrying a cuddly toy on the night of the wedding, has caused shock in the Isere, a tranquil region of mountains, woods and lakes.

Sniffer dogs lost her scent in the car park outside the wedding venue, raising fears she was kidnapped and whisked away by car.

Scores of police search and rescue teams, divers and cavers spent last week combing the area for her while officers questioned all the wedding guests.

Several hundred residents organised another search at the weekend, to no avail.

Speaking to France's RTL radio the suspect's mother insisted her son, who lives with his parents a few kilometres from Pont-de-Beauvoisin, 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."

Bernard, a retired neighbour who gave only his first name, told AFP he often met the suspect out walking his dogs and had "very good relations" with him.

France Info radio reported that he was a former soldier.

- Car was washed -

The suspect was taken into custody last week along with a friend over inconsistencies in their account of the night's events. The pair were later released.

On Sunday, he was re-arrested after the police uncovered more evidence.

"Confronted with testimony, findings and scientific evidence, he persisted in his denials and explanations," the public prosecutor's office in Grenoble said.

Investigators became interested in the man after it emerged he was missing from the party around the time Maelys disappeared.

The man told the police he had gone home to change after spilling wine on his clothes.

The day after the wedding he cleaned his car. According to his lawyer, he did so with a view to selling it.

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