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European court of justice advises Madeleine McCann suspect was lawfully tried in rape case

The prime suspect in the disappearance of the British toddler Madeleine McCann was told that he was lawfully put on trial for rape last year, as his lawyers attempt to overturn that conviction at the European court of justice.

Christian Brückner, a 43-year-old German, is trying to overturn his conviction for the rape of a 72-year-old American woman in Praia da Luz, Portugal, in 2005. He has argued at the ECJ that he had been extradited to Germany from Portugal, and later Italy, on a different charge.

According to European arrest warrant rules he should not have been able to have been subsequently put on trial for a separate crime, his lawyers said.

They said that German authorities had required Portugal’s consent in order to bring the rape proceedings, owing to the fact that the June 2017 extradition order was for drugs charges.

But a preliminary opinion by the advocate general Michal Bobek said the consent of the Italian authorities was all that was necessary for the Germans to pursue the proceedings against Brückner for the rape in 2005 in Portugal. .

Brückner was in Italy when charged with the rape, and authorities there had given consent for him to be tried in Germany.

Bobek’s appraisal is not legally binding and the court has yet to make a ruling, but it is usual practice for ECJ judges to follow the opinion of its advocate generals.

A spokesperson for Germany’s prosecutor said: “We are satisfied and waiting for the decision of the court over the next few weeks.”

When the hearing at the ECJ in Luxembourg opened last month the German prosecutor’s lawyer, Felix Halabi, had argued that Brückner’s argument was “nonsensical”. He said: “The suspect made the most of European open borders and now he wants us to interpret the law so as to get it turned on its head in order to give him an advantage in court.”

Brückner is in a high-security prison in the northern port city of Kiel, serving a 21-month sentence for drug trafficking. His jail term is due to end in January.

If Brückner’s appeal against the rape conviction fails he will be in custody until 2027.

According to Bobek’s assessment the European arrest warrant rules were irrelevant for Brückner’s case, owing to the fact that he had, in the interim, left Germany of his own accord, and returned to the country on a fresh European arrest warrant. This was carried out by authorities in Italy, who had approved the German authorities’ request.

Bobek said the restrictions, which would have been relevant for the first arrest warrant, would no longer be in place once a separate warrant had been issued.

Brückner was originally extradited from Portugal to Germany in 2017 to serve a sentence for the sexual abuse of a minor from which he had absconded. He served the one year and three months sentence and was released on 31 August 2018. Police attempts to keep him in Germany failed and he went to the Netherlands then on to Italy before being arrested there in September 2018.

He was convicted for the 2005 rape in December 2019 and sentenced to seven and a half years in jail.

German prosecutors have repeatedly said they believed Brückner killed Madeleine. Hans Christian Wolters, the Braunschweig prosecutor leading the investigation, said investigators had “concrete evidence” that he killed her but so far had no “forensic evidence”.

It remains unclear how strong the evidence is and prosecutors have not brought charges against him.

A week ago investigators spent two days in a Hanover suburb digging up an allotment plot once used by Brückner. The police have given no further information on the search.

The UK’s Metropolitan police said they were continuing to treat the disappearance of Madeleine as a missing person inquiry.

Brückner’s appeal is ongoing.

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