Sex, lies and a murder suspect with a story to sell

By Guy Adams

His cell is full of rats. His confession was faked. And journalists beating a path to the Peruvian jail where Joran van der Sloot is being held on suspicion of two eerily-similar high-profile murders are now being told that his incarceration is the direct result of an FBI sting operation.

The young Dutchman spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since he was arrested and charged with the killing of Stephany Flores, a 21-year-old student from Lima whom he had befriended at the gaming tables of a local casino during a high-stakes poker tournament.

"I have been framed," he claimed, during a rambling interview with De Telegraaf, Amsterdam's largest daily newspaper. "What happened exactly, I will explain later." Asked how he was coping with conditions at the notorious Castro Castro prison in Lima, he added: "I am surviving. It is my own fault I am here."

Van der Sloot was detained in Chile on June 3 and deported to Peru under an international warrant after the body of Flores was found, bloodied and battered, in his room at Limais Hotel Tac. Her neck was broken and she had apparently been beaten with a tennis racket.

The murder has sparked international attention since it occurred exactly five years to the day after the American teenager Natalee Holloway went missing during a night out on the Caribbean island of Aruba.

Van der Sloot, 22, was the last person seen with her, and remains the chief suspect in her still-notorious disappearance, remembered as much for his subsequent extraordinary behaviour as for the crime itself.

In recent years, the Dutchman has issued and then retracted several confessions related to the affair, mostly during highly paid TV interviews. US authorities recently charged him with attempting to extort US$25,000 from Hollowayis mother, Beth Twitty, by promising to show her where Natalee's body was buried in exchange for money.

He now claims his recent arrest resulted from an FBI sting after an undercover agent lured him to Peru in order to have him arrested and extradited to the US to face the extortion charges. A man called Garcia offered to foot the bill for his travel, accommodation, and entrance in the $10,000 poker tournament, he maintains. "Mr Garcia arranged and paid for everything for me," van der Sloot said. "Looking back, I can't believe I let myself be lured. I hardly knew that guy. It was just an FBI set-up."

He would not discuss how exactly the body of Flores then came to be in his hotel room, but implied that it was planted there as part of the same FBI plot. He further claimed that he had been persuaded, under duress, to sign a fake murder confession shortly after his arrest.

"During the original interrogations, I was very frightened and confused, and I wanted to leave," he said.

"They were telling me all the time: 'If you sign these papers, you will be extradited to the Netherlands.' In my blind panic I then signed everything, but I did not even know what was written down."

In the now-disputed confession, van der Sloot explained that he had taken Flores to his bedroom at around 5am, after meeting her at the card table. He killed her after she discovered his famous links to the Holloway case. "The girl intruded into my private life. She had no right. I went to her and I hit her. We argued and she tried to escape. I grabbed her by the neck and I hit her."

A Peruvian court is now likely to decide which version of events is true. If convicted of murder, van der Sloot faces up to 35 years in prison. But it will take roughly two years for his case to come to trial. In the meantime, he must share his cellblock with a Colombian murderer, a corrupt Peruvian general, and rats that creep into his six-by-four-foot cell through the toilet at night. It marks a dramatic reality check for a man who, despite his famously volatile temper - he once threw a glass of wine in a TV reporter's eyes - has previously seemed to relish his dubious reputation, treating the Holloway case as an excuse to cultivate minor celebrity.

The 2005 disappearance of the American teenager, who was holidaying in Aruba to celebrate her graduation from high school, sparked global media interest, and celebrities including Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon and Kate Hudson contributed to a $1m reward fund to help find out what had become of her. Van der Sloot, who lived on the holiday island and was 17 years old at the time, admitted meeting Holloway in a local bar on the night of her death, and later having sex with her on a local beach. But he repeatedly changed his story regarding what happened that night.

Although he was arrested in Aruba on suspicion of murder, he was never charged, owing to lack of evidence. After he was freed, he returned to the Netherlands in 2006, where police investigating Holloway's disappearance were unable to reach him.

- INDEPENDENT

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