German Madeleine McCann suspect on trial in sex offence cases

Christian Brueckner, 47, the prime suspect in the case of missing British toddler Madeleine McCann, went on trial in Germany for other sexual related crimes. Picture: Julian Stratenschulte / POOL / AFP

Christian Brueckner, 47, the prime suspect in the case of missing British toddler Madeleine McCann, went on trial in Germany for other sexual related crimes. Picture: Julian Stratenschulte / POOL / AFP

Published Feb 16, 2024


The prime suspect in the long-unsolved case of missing British toddler Madeleine McCann went on trial in Germany on Friday on unrelated sex crimes.

Christian Brueckner, 47, was seen in public for the first time since he was revealed in June 2020 as the main suspect in the high-profile case dating back to 2007.

Wearing a purple shirt and a grey jacket, the German suspect looked composed as he entered the courtroom.

German prosecutors have yet to charge Brueckner over Madeleine's disappearance, but in October 2022 he was charged with five separate counts of rape and child sex abuse allegedly committed in Portugal between 2000 and 2017.

The charges came about as a direct result of investigations into the "Maddie" case, Christian Wolters, a spokesman for the prosecution told AFP.

Brueckner is already behind bars in Germany for raping a 72-year-old US tourist in 2005 in Praia da Luz - the same Portuguese seaside resort where Maddie went missing two years later.

If found guilty in the new trial, he could face another sentence of between five and 15 years, a court spokeswoman court told AFP.

However, if cleared, he could be freed from jail as soon as 2026, according to Wolters.

The trial will last around four months with 29 hearings in total, according to the court.

Five alleged crimes

Three-year-old Madeleine went missing from her family's holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in Portugal's Algarve region in May 2007 while her parents dined at a nearby tapas bar.

Despite a huge international manhunt and global media attention, no trace has been found and no one has been charged over her disappearance.

German prosecutors have said they have "concrete evidence" that Madeleine is dead, but the case has since rumbled on without any breakthroughs.

Investigations are continuing in the Maddie case, Wolters told AFP, but "it is currently unclear whether charges will be filed or not".

In the latest trial, Brueckner has been charged with two child sex offences and three rapes.

In one case, he is accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old German girl on a beach in April 2007, just weeks before Madeleine McCann went missing.

In another, prosecutors say he exposed himself in front of an 11-year-old Portuguese girl at a playground.

He is also accused of sexually assaulting two women and a teenage girl and filming the incidents.

In one case, prosecutors accuse him of entering the holiday apartment of a woman aged between 70 and 80, tying her up and raping and beating her.

In the second, he is said to have tied a girl aged around 14 to a wooden post at his home in Portugal, beat her with a whip and forced her to perform sexual acts.

Notes and sketches

In the third, he is accused of entering a young woman's apartment via her balcony in 2004 while she was sleeping, threatening her with a knife and raping her several times.

Prosecutors had previously said that the victim was a 20-year-old Irish woman.

Evidence will include witness statements as well as notebooks seized from Brueckner, according to Wolters.

Handwritten notes and sketches in the notebooks offer insights into "his sexual fantasies", he said.

The trial and the Maddie investigation share common witnesses, Wolters added, but "other than that, they are completely separate procedures".

Brueckner's lawyer, Friedrich Fuelscher, said his client was planning to remain silent, but this "does not mean (he) has anything to hide".

"The prosecution is on shaky ground with regard to all the charges," Fuelscher told AFP.

If he gets a fair trial, Brueckner "can only be acquitted", Fuelscher said.

"However, ensuring a fair trial will also be the greatest difficulty of this trial: the media's prejudgement of the accused is unprecedented," he said.