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IT expert targeted in hunt for Madeleine

Original Source:  TIMES: 17 MAY 2007
From The Times May 17, 2007
David Brown and Steve Bird in Praia da Luz

The home of a computer expert employed by Robert Murat — the only suspect in the abduction of Madeleine McCann — was searched last night as police continued their hunt for the missing girl.

Kate and Gerry McCann walked past the flat of Serguei Malinka on their way to church at 8pm as detectives hoped to make a significant breakthrough in the search for their four-year-old daughter, who has been missing for 14 days.

Neighbours said that Mr Malinka, 22, who designed a website for Mr Murat, 33, had lived in Praia da Luz in the Algarve for seven years.

After spending two hours inside, the plain-clothes officers emerged carrying two hard drives, a laptop and a black bin bag full of items. Mr Malinka was brought out by the detectives and driven off.

Detectives were believed to want to talk to Mr Malinka about files found on two computers that were removed from Mr Murat’s home in Praia da Luz on Monday.

Mr Malinka confirmed that he worked for Mr Murat earlier this year to create a website for his estate agency. The Russian citizen is believed to have volunteered to help police. Yesterday morning Mr Malinka strenuously denied being the Russian man with a criminal record for sex offences who was reportedly being hunted by police.

“I don’t know who they mean. It’s definitely not me,” he said. “I have just had all my residency papers approved and checks are always made for criminal convictions. I have none whatsoever.”

He added: “I did some work for Robert and found him a really cool guy. He wanted a website created and I did a lot of work getting it together for him.”

Mr Murat, who denies any involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance, was made a formal suspect on Tuesday after being interviewed for more than 12 hours. He has said that he was questioned by detectives about encrypted files allegedly found on his desktop and laptop computers.

Mr Murat, a Briton, has told friends that he is devastated at being linked to the abduction and fears that he is being made a scapegoat by the police. His own daughter, aged 3, bears a striking resemblance to the missing girl.

Tuck Price, a close friend of the family, said that Mr Murat was seeking advice on how he could get around restrictions under Portuguese law so that he could respond to the allegations against him.

Mr Price said: “Robert is still prevented by Portuguese secrecy laws from saying anything even though he is desperate to clear his name. He wants to get the focus back on to Madeleine and away from him. He is a good guy. This whole thing has been blown out of all proportion.”

Mr Murat’s cousin, Sally Eveleigh, speaking on his behalf, denied vehemently any involvement. “His whole life’s fallen apart just from being overenthusiastic and trying to help people, as he always does. That’s his way,” she said. “People not knowing him have misunderstood it.”

The estranged wife of Mr Murat said that she was “assisting police in any way she could”. In a statement issued via Norfolk police, Dawn Murat, of Hockering, Norfolk, said that she was going through a “very difficult time”.

Mr Murat had been a leading figure in the search for Madeleine and had acted as a translator between the police and witnesses, including her parents. He lives in a villa with his mother, Jennifer, less than 100 metres from the holiday apartment where Madeleine was abducted.

He employed Mr Malinka, formerly from Moscow, to create a website for Romigen, an estate agency he founded with his German girlfriend, Michaela Walczuch.

Ms Walczuch and her estranged husband, Luis Antonio, were questioned as “witnesses” on Monday.

The search teams have been told of a large compartment under the villa. Des Taylor, a British architect who designed the €700,000 (£479,000) building, told detectives that the space was created because the house is built on a slope and was accessible through a hole in the living room floor.

Police are concentrating on the theory that Madeleine was abducted by an international paedophile network and believe that she may still be alive.Madeleine’s relatives said that a fund had been set up to support her family and “bring her abductors to justice”. Any surplus would be used to help families in similar circumstances, they said.

Relatives also met politicans including Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, and John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, yesterday.


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