15 years on, Portugal eyes German suspect in missing Maddie case

Almost 15 years after British toddler Madeleine McCann went missing while on holiday, Portuguese authorities have followed German prosecutors and declared a convicted German rapist the prime suspect in her disappearance.

A note asks journalists not to enter in the house where a German suspect, related to the Madeleine McCann case, was living when the three-year-old girl disappeared 
In this file photo taken on June 5, 2020 a note asks journalists not to enter in the house where a German suspect, related to the Madeleine McCann case, was living when the three-year-old girl disappeared in 2007, near Lagos, Portugal. A man has been declared an official suspect in Germany at Portugal's request in connection with Maddie's disappearance. CARLOS COSTA / AFP

Portuguese public prosecutors announced late Thursday that a man had been named as an “arguido”, or formal suspect in the high-profile case.

While they did not name the suspect, it is understood to be Christian B., the same person German prosecutors in Brunswick are investigating on suspicion of murdering “Maddie”.

No charges have been brought yet against Christian B. in either country however, and no body has been found.

Christian B.’s lawyer, Friedrich Fuelscher, told AFP the Portuguese announcement “should not be overrated”.

He said the “arguido” move appeared to be linked to Portugal’s 15-year statute of limitation for certain crimes.

 “I assume that the statute of limitations was interrupted by this step,” Fuelscher said.

Brunswick prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters also suggested the step was a formality and unlikely to indicate a major breakthrough in the Portuguese probe.

 “Portugal apparently by now also sees reason to suspect” Christian B., Wolters said.

But he said he would be “surprised” if the Portuguese probe was further along than the German one.

Portuguese prosecutors said they were working “in cooperation with English and German authorities”.

Christian B. is currently serving a seven-year sentence in Oldenburg, northern Germany, for raping a 72-year-old American tourist in Portugal’s Praia da Luz in 2005.

Madeleine McCann, then aged three, went missing from the same seaside resort on May 3, 2007.

Her disappearance sparked a huge manhunt and an international media frenzy, with photographs of Maddie plastered across billboards and news bulletins.

Maddie’s parents Gerry and Kate were at one point also declared “arguidos” in the Portuguese investigation, before the status was lifted for both of them.

Criminal past
The latest step “is related to the statute of limitations”, agreed ex-police inspector Goncalo Amaral, who led the inquiry into Maddie’s disappearance in Portugal in 2007.

“It’s a procedural trick by the public prosecutors,” he said.

Amaral was sued by Kate and Gerry McCann over a 2008 book in which he accused them of concealing her body after she died accidentally.

Portuguese police shelved their controversial investigation — which saw Amaral sacked — in 2008, but reopened it five years later citing “new elements”.

British police opened their own inquiry in July 2013, but on-site excavations in Praia da Luz yielded no evidence.

The case appeared to have gone cold until Brunswick prosecutors made the stunning revelation in June 2020 that they were certain Maddie was dead and that they believed Christian B. killed her.

READ ALSO: ‘Concrete evidence’ that Madeleine McCann is dead, says German prosecutor

Christian B. was at that time already serving a jail sentence for drug trafficking in Kiel, northern Germany.

He has a long criminal history including sex offences and convictions for child sexual abuse.

Christian B. lived just a few kilometres (miles) away from Praia da Luz in Portugal’s Algarve region at the time Maddie vanished from her family’s holiday accommodation, according to Brunswick prosecutors.

Wolters said his team was currently also investigating Christian B. on suspicion of raping an Irish woman in 2004 and over suspected cases of child abuse in Portugal.

Wolters said he hoped to complete those probes soon, while the Maddie investigation “could take a while longer”. 

READ ALSO: German police resume Maddie McCann allotment search


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EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Germany is known for having some of the world’s strictest gun laws, but shooting incidents continue to cause concern.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Is it difficult to get a gun in Germany?

To get a gun in Germany you firstly have to obtain a firearms ownership license (Waffenbesitzkarte) – and you may need a different one for each weapon you buy – or a license to carry (Waffenschein).

Applicants for a license must be at least 18-years-old and undergo what’s called a reliability check. This includes checking for criminal records, whether the person is an alcohol or drug addict, whether they have a mental illness or any other attributes that might make them owning a gun a potential concern for authorities.

They also have to pass a “specialised knowledge test” on guns and people younger than 25 applying for their first license must go through a psychiatric evaluation.

Crucially, applicants must also prove a specific and approved “need“ for the weapon, which is mainly limited to use by hunters, competitive marksmen, collectors and security workers – not for self-defence.

Once you have a license, you’re also limited in the number of and kinds of guns you may own, depending on what kind of license you have: Fully automatic weapons are banned for everyone, while semiautomatic firearms are banned for anything other than hunting or competitive shooting.

A revolver lies on an application for the issuance of a firearms license. Photo: picture alliance / Carsten Rehder/dpa | Carsten Rehder

How many legal guns are there in Germany? 

According to the latest figures from the Federal Ministry of the Interior, as of May 31st, 2022, there were 5.018,963 registered guns in Germany, and 946,546 gun owners entered in the National Weapons Register (NWR).

Where are the most guns in Germany?

Most legal guns are found in rural areas and are used in hunting or shooting sports. Guns are also more widespread in the western States than in the states that make up the former East Germany, where private gun ownership was extremely limited. 

READ ALSO: German prosecutors say poaching led to double police murder

What about undocumented guns in Germany?

One problem in Germany is so-called ‘old’ weapons. It’s impossible to estimate how many weapons from the two world wars are still in circulation and such antiques have appeared in a number of high-profile incidents in the last few years.

The pistol hidden in a Vienna airport by Bundeswehr officer Franco A was a Unique pistol from 1917 and the 2007 murder of a police officer in Heilbronn involved a Wehrmacht pistol. 

In 2009, around 200,000 weapons were returned in a gun amnesty, but it is still unclear how many illegal weapons are still out there.

Does Germany have a gun violence problem?

Gun crime is relatively rare in Germany, which has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe and, according to the latest figures from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), gun-related crimes in Germany are decreasing.

In 2021, there were 9.8 percent fewer crimes committed with a firearm than the previous year, while the number of cases recorded by the police in which a firearm was used to threaten fell by 11.2 percent. Shots were fired in 4,074 of the total number of recorded cases, down 8.5 percent from 2021.

An armored weapons cabinet filled with long guns. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Friso Gentsch

Despite this, there have been several mass shootings within the past two decades, which have had a big impact on public consciousness and on gun control policy. 

Between 2002 and 2009 there were three major incidents of young men carrying out shootings at their former high schools and, in 2020, a racially motivated gunman shot and killed 11 people and injured numerous others in an attack on two shisha bars in Hanau. The perpetrator was allowed to legally possess firearms, although he had previously sent letters with right-wing extremist content to authorities.

Recently there were also shootings at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany and at a supermarket in Schwalmstadt in Hesse.

Are German gun laws about to change?

The German parliament reacted to the mass shooting incidents in the early 2000s by tightening the gun laws, and, in the wake of the Hanau attack, a new amendment is in the works, which aims to shift focus towards monitoring gun owners with extremist, right-wing views.

READ ALSO: Germany marks a year since deadly racist shooting in Hanau

In December 2021, Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) announced her intention to further tighten gun laws, as part of a plan to tackle right-wing extremism.

The authorities in charge of the protection of the constitution have been warning for some time that neo-Nazis are deliberately joining shooting clubs to obtain guns and the Federal Ministry of the Interior reports that 1.500 suspected right-wing extremists among legal gun owners.

Campaigners say more needs to be done to stop gun crime. 

Dagmar Ellerbrock, a historian and expert on weapons history at the Technical University of Dresden said: “It is high time that we try to at least make it more difficult for these political groups to find their way through the shooting associations.”