Madeleine McCann suspect loses bid to be freed from jail

The German's appeal for prison release rejected by European Court of Justice

(FILES) This handout file photo taken in 2018 and released by Italian Carabinieri on June 5, 2020 shows Christian B, the prime suspect in the disappearance of British girl Madeleine "Maddie" McCann, when he was arrested for drug trafficking in Italy. Christian B is now also being investigated over the unsolved rape of an Irishwoman in Portugal, German prosecutors said Tuesday, September 22, 2020. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/ ITALIAN CARABINIERI PRESS OFFICE" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
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The prime suspect in the disappearance of British toddler Madeleine McCann has lost his bid to be freed from jail after Europe’s highest court rejected his appeal.

The European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday that Christian B could not be released from prison - to the relief of investigators who feared the German would flee if he was let out.

The legal challenge hinged on a conviction in Germany for the rape of a 72-year-old woman in Portugal in 2005.

The 43-year-old’s legal team argued that the European Arrest Warrant issued by Germany was not valid as it cited a drugs conviction and not the 2005 rape charge.

The court found the rape conviction was justified because Italian authorities, who had arrested and handed him over to German authorities, had given their consent for him to be prosecuted for that case.

Christian B, who has a string of convictions, is now serving his sentence for drug trafficking in the northern German city of Kiel, which ends on January 7, 2021.

He had applied for early release and could have been freed if the separate sentence over the rape in Portugal was thrown out by the court.

Thursday's ruling would therefore mean that when the jail term for drug trafficking ends, the sentence for rape would then follow.

Madeleine McCann, also known as Maddie, went missing from her family's holiday apartment in the Portuguese holiday resort of Praia da Luz on May 3, 2007, a few days before her fourth birthday, as her parents dined with friends at a nearby tapas bar.

Picture released by the McCann family 24 May 2007 and was taken 03 May 2007, the same day Madeleine McCann (R) went missing from the family's holiday apartment in the southern Algarve region. Madeleine was abducted as she slept with her brother and sister in a hotel apartment at the Ocean Club Resort while her parents dined at a nearby restaurant.   AFP PHOTO/HO (Photo by FAMILY HANDOUT / AFP)

Her case sparked an international search and outcry, but no trace of her has been found, nor has anyone been charged over her disappearance.

In June, German prosecutors made the announcement that they were investigating a 43-year-old German man in connection with the case, saying they had "concrete evidence" he killed Maddie.

British police, however, are still treating her disappearance as a missing persons case.

German police said the suspect, a white man with short blond hair, lived in the Algarve region of Portugal between 1995 and 2007.

He made a living doing odd jobs in the area where Madeleine was taken, and also burgled hotel rooms and holiday flats.

Police are not ruling out that Christian B may have broken into the McCanns' flat for a robbery before spontaneously taking the girl.

Since investigators went public with their appeal for information about the suspect, a string of cold cases, including rapes and murders, have reopened across Europe over any possible connection with the German.

Belgium is re-examining the 1996 murder of a German teenager who was found dead and mutilated in the resort town of De Haan on the Belgian coast.

In the Netherlands, investigators are taking a closer look at the unexplained disappearance in 1995 of Jair Soares, a seven-year-old Portuguese child.

German investigators are also looking at the unsolved rape of an Irishwoman in Portugal in 2004.

The woman came forward after seeing pictures of the suspect in the media.