Spanish police said tonight they had arrested an Italian man and Portuguese woman who allegedly tried to extort money from the parents of Madeleine McCann, offering them information about their missing four-year-old daughter.
Police said in a statement the two in custody were suspected of trying to swindle the McCanns, who have launched a Europe-wide search for their daughter after she disappeared two months ago during a family holiday in Portugal.
The investigation was still continuing, however, and the two suspects were being held in Spanish custody, the statement said.
“Police began to investigate them after getting information that they had tried to contact Madeleine’s parents to collect a reward,” the statement said.
Spanish authorities told Italian diplomats in Spain the man had no connection with Madeleine’s disappearance.
The Italian man was arrested on an international warrant issued from France, where he was wanted for alleged association with a crime group – the police statement said.
He had served an 18-month sentence in France for child mistreatment, specifically his daughter, it said.
A Spanish police spokeswoman said the warrant itself had nothing to do with the McCann case.
The Portuguese woman was detained due to her association with the Italian man, and there was no warrant for her arrest, the spokeswoman said.
Both the man and woman were arrested this morning in Sotogrande, a town in the southern Spanish province of Cadiz.
Two Portuguese detectives took part in the arrests, police in Lisbon said.
“We thought they might be involved in the Madeleine case. It is a possibility, but we have found no concrete evidence yet,” Portuguese police inspector Olegario Sousa said. He declined to provide further details.
Members of the McCann family in Britain said they were withholding comment until more information was known.
“We have no comment to make, because we know no more than we have seen on the news,” said John McCann, brother of Madeleine’s father, Gerry.
Madeleine’s great uncle, Brian Kennedy, said he did not know any details about the man’s detention. “We are trying not to get our hopes up too much because they so frequently get dashed,” he told Sky News.
Madeleine disappeared on May 3 after her parents left her and her brother and sister, two-year-old twins, alone in their room while they went to a restaurant inside their hotel complex in Praia da Luz on the Algarve.
Police have received countless tip-offs in the past two months, and the McCanns have launched an international campaign to find Madeleine, enlisting the aid of celebrities such as David Beckham and JK Rowling.