Arrested pair not missing Madeleine's kidnappers

MADRID - An Italian man and a Portuguese woman have been arrested after trying to extort money from Madeleine McCann's parents.

A Spanish police statement said the pair were suspected of trying to dupe the McCanns by pretending that they had information about the missing four-year-old.

"Police began to investigate them after getting information that they had tried to contact Madeleine's parents to collect a reward," it read.

Italian Foreign Ministry officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Spanish authorities had confirmed to dipolmats that the arrested man had no connection with her disappearance.

The Italian, arrested on a French-issued international warrant, was wanted for an alleged association with a criminal organisation, the Spanish statement said.

He had served an 18-month sentence in France for mistreatment of his own daughter.

The warrant had nothing to do with the McCann case.

No warrant had been issued for the Portuguese woman's arrest, she had been detained because of her connection to the Italian man.

A Spanish police spokeswoman confirmed the Italian man had been arrested in Sotogrande, east of Gibraltar on the Andalucian coast, under an international arrest warrant issued by France.

She said the arrest warrant had nothing to do with the case of Madeleine McCann, but added police were now looking into possible links between the man and the kidnapping.

In Lisbon, police chief inspector Olegario de Sousa told Reuters Portuguese police had been involved in an operation that led to the arrest of the two people in Spain on Thursday but no connection was found to Madeleine's disappearance.

"Two people were arrested but no links were found to the Madeleine case," he said.

Madeleine vanished from her bed while her parents dined at a nearby restaurant in the Praia da Luz Algarve resort on May 3.

Her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, have campaigned relentlessly to draw attention to her disappearance, including meeting the Pope and winning support from personalities such as British soccer star David Beckham.

El Pais quoted police sources as saying the investigation was in its early stages.

The paper said the police operation started at 5am and was being led by a specialist anti-kidnapping squad that was originally set up to investigate organised crime on the Costa del Sol.

- REUTERS / HERALD STAFF

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