German ‘Maddie’ suspect in court on unrelated sex crime charges

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Braunschweig, Germany, Feb 16 (AFP/APP):The prime suspect in the long-unsolved case of missing British toddler Madeleine McCann will go on trial in Germany on Friday charged with a host of unrelated sex crimes.
              The 47-year-old German, identified by authorities as Christian B., was revealed as a suspect in June 2020. It was a major bombshell for the "Maddie" investigation, one of the highest-profile missing persons cases in history.
              Friday's highly anticipated trial opening will mark the first time he has appeared in public since then.
              German prosecutors have yet to charge Christian B. over Madeleine's disappearance, but in October 2022 he was charged with five separate counts of rape and child sex abuse allegedly committed in Portugal between 2000 and 2017.
              The charges came about as a direct result of investigations into the "Maddie" case, Christian Wolters, a spokesman for the prosecution in Brunswick, told AFP.
              Christian B. is already behind bars in Germany for raping a 72-year-old US tourist in 2005 in Praia da Luz -- the same Portuguese seaside resort where Maddie went missing two years later.
              If found guilty in the new trial, he could face another sentence of between five and 15 years, a spokeswoman for the court in Brunswick told AFP.
              However, if cleared, he could be freed from jail as soon as 2026, according to Wolters.
              The trial will last around four months with 29 hearings in total, according to the court.
               Three-year-old Madeleine went missing from her family's holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in Portugal's Algarve region in May 2007 while her parents dined at a nearby tapas bar.
              Despite a huge international manhunt and global media attention, no trace of her has been found and no one has been charged over her disappearance.
              German prosecutors have said they have "concrete evidence" that Madeleine is dead, but the case has since rumbled on without any major breakthroughs.
              Investigations are continuing in the Maddie case, Wolters told AFP, but "it is currently unclear whether charges will be filed or not".
              In the trial opening on Friday, Christian B. has been charged with two child sex offences and three rapes.
              In one case, he is accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old German girl on a beach in April 2007, just weeks before Madeleine McCann went missing.
              In another, prosecutors say he exposed himself in front of an 11-year-old Portuguese girl at a playground.
              He is also accused of sexually assaulting two women and a teenage girl and filming the incidents.
              In one case, prosecutors accuse him of entering the holiday apartment of a woman aged between 70 and 80, tying her up and raping and beating her.
              In the second, he is said to have tied a girl aged around 14 to a wooden post in his own home in Portugal, beat her with a whip and forced her to perform sexual acts.
              In the third, he is accused of entering a young woman's apartment via her balcony in 2004 while she was sleeping, threatening her with a knife and raping her several times.
              Prosecutors had previously said that the victim was a 20-year-old Irish woman.
              Evidence in the trial will include witness statements as well as notebooks seized from Christian B., according to Wolters.
              Handwritten notes and sketches in the notebooks offer insights into "his sexual fantasies", he said.
              The trial and the Maddie investigation share common witnesses, Wolters added, but "other than that, they are completely separate procedures".
              Christian B.'s lawyer, Friedrich Fuelscher, said his client was planning to initially remain silent during his defence, but this "does not mean (he) has anything to hide".
              "The prosecution is on shaky ground with regard to all the charges," Fuelscher told AFP.
              If he gets a fair trial, Christian B. "can only be acquitted", Fuelscher said.
              "However, ensuring a fair trial will also be the greatest difficulty of this trial: the media's prejudgement of the accused is unprecedented," he said.