updated 10/9/2007 6:13:42 PM ET 2007-10-09T22:13:42

One of Portugal’s top detectives is taking charge of the investigation into the disappearance of a British girl who vanished while vacationing with her parents, officials said Tuesday.

Paulo Rebelo, a senior criminal investigation coordinator at the national police headquarters in Lisbon, was appointed to the Madeleine McCann case late Monday after a meeting of police chiefs, a spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity in accordance with police policy.

Authorities last week removed the detective previously overseeing the investigation after he criticized British police in comments to a Portuguese newspaper. Goncalo Amaral claimed British detectives cooperating in the investigation were being misled by the girl’s parents, who are suspects in the case.

Rebelo was expected to move to southern Portugal, where the girl vanished May 3, and start work within days, she said.

He has worked on several high-profile investigations in recent years, including allegations that a child sex ring operated at a state-run children’s home.

Madeleine McCann disappeared a few days before her 4th birthday during a family vacation in Portugal’s Algarve region.

Focus switched to parents
After initially focusing on the possibility that she was abducted from her hotel room, police switched their focus to her parents when forensic tests conducted at a government laboratory in Britain found evidence that DNA from Madeleine was in the trunk of a rental car the parents used after her disappearance.

Police placed parents Kate and Gerry McCann, doctors who have since returned to their home in central England, under investigation. However, Portugal’s national police chief, Alipio Ribeiro, said the forensic tests on the car were not conclusive and he expected the investigation to continue.

Kate and Gerry McCann say they were not involved in their daughter’s disappearance and have run an international campaign to find their daughter. They have said they are prepared to return to Portugal for further police questioning, if necessary.

The only other formal suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance is Robert Murat, a British man who lived near the hotel where she vanished. He also has denied involvement.

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