ortuguese sources have confirmed authorities there have made Christian Brueckner an official suspect over Madeleine McCann’s disappearance.
The 44-year-old was told he was now an “arguido” in Portugal in his German prison cell on Wednesday morning, one insider said.
A written statement issued by the Portimao section of the Faro Department of Criminal Investigation and Prosecution (DIAP) said: “As part of the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007, a person was made an arguido on Wednesday. “
Portugal’s Attorney General’s Office and the country’s Policia Judiciaria have yet to make any official comment.
But one well-placed source said the decision was linked to Portugal’s statute of limitations which means the authors of crimes punishable by a maximum prison sentence of more than 10 years cannot generally be prosecuted there once 15 years has passed.
Madeleine vanished aged three from her family apartment in Praia da Luz on May 3 2007.
The source said: “The legal grounds for making Brueckner an arguido include the fact that he allegedly confessed to a friend he had snatched Madeleine and mobile phone records placed him in Praia da Luz the night she vanished.
“But it is obviously linked to the fact that the Portuguese authorities want to keep their options open with the 15-year deadline looming.” Brueckner remained silent after being informed he had been made an arguido and declined to be questioned as part of the Portuguese criminal procedure.
It is not yet clear who told him he was being given arguido status but it happened after a formal international letter of request issued by Portuguese authorities to their German counterparts.
The Portuguese move paves the way for him to be flown from Germany to the Algarve for formal questioning but there are not thought to be any immediate plans to try to quiz him in Portugal.
It is understood German investigators are currently focusing their efforts on forensic work on the VW camper van Brueckner used while he lived on the Algarve which featured in a police appeal about the convicted rapist’s vehicles.
Portuguese authorities had insisted earlier this month they would continue to investigate Madeleine McCann’s disappearance despite reports Scotland Yard was planning to end its Operation Grange probe after eleven years.
A spokesman for Portugal’s Attorney General’s Office, asked about the future of the probe led by a prosecutor based in the Algarve resort of Portimao, said: “The investigation is proceeding, with the inquiry not having a final conclusion yet.”
A written statement issued by the Portimao section of the Faro Department of Criminal Investigation and Prosecution (DIAP), titled: “Maddie case. Constitution of an Arguido”, said: “As part of the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007, a person was made an arguido on Wednesday.
“The person was made an arguido by the German authorities in execution of a request for international judicial cooperation issued by the Public Ministry of Portugal. “
The investigation is led by the Portimao section of the DIAP in Faro with the assistance of the Policia Judiciaria police. “The investigation has been carried out with the cooperation of the English and German authorities.”
An “arguido” – normally translated as “named suspect” or “formal suspect” – is someone who is treated by Portuguese police as more than a witness but has not been arrested or charged.
Under Portuguese law, a person declared an arguido – “arguida” in the case of a woman – has legal protection that is not extended to a witness, including the right to remain silent during questioning and the right to legal representation.
Detectives invoke arguido status on someone as a preliminary to an arrest being made or charges brought, but that does not mean arrests or charges automatically follow.
Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry were made arguidos in September 2007 after Robert Murat. But their status was lifted in July 2008 when Portugal archived its first investigation. Portuguese police sources said closing their long-running ‘cold case’ review was “completely out of the question.”
Fears the opportunity to get justice for Maddie and her parents could be dealt a hammer blow in a little over three weeks’ time despite the continuing Portuguese probe had been raised ahead of the confirmation the Portuguese prosecution probe and police review would continue. Madeleine McCann’s family’s lawyer Rogerio Alves warned in July 2020 Portugal’s 15-year limit on prosecutions meant there was less than two years left to take action against Brueckner, who German authorities were treating as their chief suspect.
And Portuguese legal experts admitted at the start of the month the chances of putting anyone behind bars over Madeleine’s disappearance would be “greatly reduced” after the day Kate and Gerry McCann remember their eldest daughter exactly a decade and a half on from the holiday mystery.
Lawyer Spencer Dohner, of MDM Legal, said: “I think the likeliest scenario with the information we have right now is that it all falls after 15 years. “Portugal has a statute of limitations which means the authors of crimes punishable by a maximum prison sentence of more than 10 years cannot generally be prosecuted once 15 years has passed.
“This of course means the ability to prosecute in Portugal in the Madeleine McCann case after May 3 this year could be terminated.
“If she were found alive and had been the victim of sex crimes as a minor, legal proceedings could take place until she was 23.
“But if Madeleine is dead as the German authorities believe and was murdered in Portugal around the time she vanished, the cut-off point for prosecution would be the 15th anniversary of her disappearance under normal circumstances barring any technical issues that could potentially pause the time limit like the Covid pandemic.
“There are some arguments that could be debated but my perception and understanding of the law is that it’s 15 years and that’s it.
“If we had a situation where a body was found and we had reasons to believe it was murder and the authorities here had a person to accuse, we would have a limitation of those 15 years.”
Another Lisbon-based lawyer, who asked not to be named, added: “Police and prosecutors in Portugal will be acutely aware of the time limits hanging over the Maddie case.
“Our statute of limitations brings with it the probability that within a matter of weeks, the person responsible for her disappearance may never be brought to justice in the country where she vanished even with an arrest and confession.”
The decision to make Brueckner an arguido in Portugal came as a surprise because a fortnight ago sources close to the case there were saying they viewed it as “highly unlikely.”
Portugal’s Attorney General agreed to reopen the investigation into Madeleine McCann’s disappearance in October 2013, more than five years after it was archived, following a formal request from the Policia Judiciaria.
PJ chief Helena Monteiro is still heading an ongoing Portuguese police ‘cold case’ review from the northern city of Porto.
In October 2013 she quized the widow of a former worker at the tourist complex where Madeleine’s parents were staying when she vanished. Serial thief Euclides Lopes Monteiro, who died in a tractor accident in August 2009, has never been publicly ruled out as a suspect despite calls from his family for police to confirm his innocence.
Late last year it was reported Brueckner would be charged in Germany with three separate sex crimes this year including the rape of an Irish woman in 2004 on the Algarve.
It emerged in June 202 police homed in on the prime suspect in the Madeleine McCann case after he allegedly told a pal in a pub: “I snatched her.”
He allegedly confessed to kidnapping the youngster while sitting in a German bar on the 10th anniversary of his abduction.
Reports at the time said he and a pal were watching a TV news report on the case in 2017 when he said he knew what had happened to her. He is also alleged to have boasted that he had “snatched her.”