ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Three Greek Gypsies were arrested on the eastern island of Lesvos Wednesday on suspicion of child abduction, days after a similar case involving a girl known as "Maria" prompted an international investigation.
Police on the Aegean Sea island said the suspects allegedly tried to register the 2 1/2-month-old boy as their own, but raised suspicions because they lacked sufficient documentation. Regional police chief Panagiotis Kordonouris told The Associated Press the 19-year-old woman, her 21-year-old male companion and his 51-year-old mother were arrested at a Roma settlement outside the island capital of Mytilini.
Kordonouris told the AP they claimed an unknown Roma woman gave them the baby in Athens. "They told us they didn't give her any money, and that they met by accident. She told them that she had five children; they said that they are unable to have their own and asked if she could give her one," Kordonouris said.
Last week, a Roma couple in the mainland town of Farsala was charged with abducting the girl known as "Maria" found living with them. The girl's discovery triggered an international investigation for a possible match with children declared missing as well a probe in Greece to check for potential birth certificate fraud committed in the past six years.
The couple, aged 39 and 40, told police and prosecutors they had received the blond girl from a destitute Bulgarian woman and had brought her up with their own five children. They have been charged with abduction and document fraud.
Police alleged that the woman had declared six births in less than 10 months, and that the couple registered a total 14 children with officials in three cities. The suspects allegedly received more than 2,500 euros ($3,450) a month in welfare payments, and authorities are examining whether the child registrations amounted to welfare fraud.
Both have been jailed awaiting trial. A police official familiar with the investigation told the AP that investigators were working on the assumption that the child may have been handed over by its parents to be trafficked. He spoke on condition of anonymity because there had not been an official statement.
The international police agency Interpol said it has not matched any missing cases to the DNA of the girl, who has been placed in temporary care with a Greek charity called "Smile of the Child." "The child is not on any list of missing children, so we believe this clearly demonstrates that this is not a case of kidnapping ... All the evidence that is emerging is providing confirmation of what my clients have been saying from the very first moment," the couple's lawyer Marietta Palavra told private Skai television.
Authorities say "Maria" is in good health, and there is no indication that she was abused, or even treated differently than other Gypsy children in the settlement. "Smile of the Child" director Costas Yannopoulos said the charity has received more than 10,000 phone calls and thousands of emails since launching the appeal for information.
"We have passed on about 800 to 1,000 tips to police," he said. "But these are not necessarily all helpful. There are people who have suffered so much that, if they are handed even a suspicion of a chance will try to see whether (the child) could be theirs."
The charity said it had received only nine specific referrals of missing child cases that it had forwarded to police — from the United States, Poland, France, and Slovakia.
Kantouris reported from Thessaloniki, Greece. AP writer Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed.
Interpol statement: http://www.interpol.int/News-and-media/News-media-releases/2013/PR132