LONDON — A German man with a history of child sexual offences has been identified by police in the U.K. and Germany as a suspect in the disappearance of British toddler Madeleine McCann, who made headlines around the world when she vanished from the Portuguese resort 13 years ago.
London's Metropolitan Police have not named the man, 43, who they described as a white German national, with short blond hair, possibly fair, and about 6-feet tall with a slim build.
"We have established that he lived on and off in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007," the force said in a statement, adding that he was "connected to the area of Praia da Luz," where Madeleine disappeared on 3 May 2007, aged three.
German police released a statement that said that the man — who is currently imprisoned in that country on unrelated offences — has a number of convictions for child sexual abuse.
He is also thought to have earned his living "by committing criminal offences, such as burglaries of hotel complexes and holiday apartments as well as trafficking in narcotic drugs," the statement said.
The toddler was staying with her parents Gerry and Kate McCann and her younger twin siblings in a holiday apartment when she vanished after her parents put them all to bed and went out to eat at a restaurant around 200ft away.
Portuguese police closed the investigation in 2008, but after two years of reviewing case documents, London cops reopened the case which has transfixed Britain in July 2013. They have since spent the equivalent of millions of dollars trying to find her, but no one has been charged and there have been no confirmed sightings.
In a statement announcing the new suspect, who is currently in prison in Germany for an unrelated matter, London's Metropolitan Police said the suspect had a telephone conversation that ended just over an hour before the child went missing.
"Investigators believe the person who made this call is a highly significant witness and are appealing for them to get in touch," the police statement said.
It added that the suspect had been been linked to an early 1980s VW T3 Westfalia camper van — with a white upper body and yellow skirting, registered in Portugal.
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Pictured in the Algarve in 2007, police said he was driving the vehicle in the Praia da Luz area in the days before Madeleine's disappearance and is believed to have been living in it for days or weeks before and after May 3.
The statement added that he had also been linked to a 1993 Jaguar XJR6 with a German number plate seen in Praia da Luz and surrounding areas in 2006 and 2007.
The day after Madeleine went missing, the suspect got the car re-registered in Germany under someone else's name, although it is believed the vehicle was still in Portugal.
Both vehicles have been seized by German police, the statement said.
“It’s more than 13 years since Madeleine went missing and none of us can imagine what it must be like for her family, not knowing what happened or where she is," said Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell, who is leading the investigation.
“While this male is a suspect we retain an open mind as to his involvement and this remains a missing person inquiry. Our job as detectives is to follow the evidence, maintain an open mind and establish what happened on that day in May 2007."
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy said the investigation into the suspect had seen detectives sent to Portugal and Germany.
He added: "This is a significant development, which is why we've made the decision to take this significant step of making a public appeal on some information that we would not normally talk about in our major investigations."