Police question Russian man who helped Maddy suspect create website
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The focus of the Madeleine McCann inquiry shifted last night to the home of a young Russian man who has helped establish a website for the police's main suspect - the Briton Robert Murat.
Sergy Malinka, 22, lives with his parents at the flat, near the church where Madeleine's parents have prayed regularly since their daughter disappeared two weeks ago today. Two cars drove up to the flats at 6pm and went into a block where the family is known to live. A police cordon was put in place near the block 40 minutes later and a further two men, one carrying a laptop case, went into the building.
Mr Malinka was driven away in the back of an unmarked police car at 7.55pm. Two hard drives, a laptop and a black bin bag were put into the boot of a car.
Mr Malinka, who was born in Moscow and may have run a computer shop with his parents in nearby Lagos, is now understood to work from the flat. He spent several weeks helping Robert Murat, 33, and his German girlfriend Michaela Walczuch set up their property website Romigen - which is short for Robert/Michaela/Genesis. Yesterday afternoon, hours before the police arrived at his top-floor flat, he said he had met Mr Murat a few times but was not connected to the inquiry. "I have just had all my residency papers approved and checks are always made for criminal convictions. I have none whatsoever," said Mr Malinka.
He also said he had enjoyed working for Mr Murat and had undertaken a lot of work for the site. "I last saw [him and his mother] about three months ago," he said.
Reports in the Portuguese press yesterday suggested police had been alerted to a Russian associate of Mr Murat, as a result of the search of his own villa, 160 yards from the McCanns' apartment. A local friend of the Murat family, Tuck Price, said Mr Malinka was a popular individual who fixed computers for residents in the area.
Soon after the flat was cordoned off, the man leading the inquiry, Olegario Sousa, who believes the investigation into his main suspect may still yield results, said he was unaware of the search but that it formed part of a day's activities "in the field".
Despite the police and media scrutiny on Mr Murat's own villa, where there was less evidence of police activity yesterday, Madeleine's parents were focusing on the launch of a fighting fund and website - findmadeleine.co.uk - to help in the search for their child. They spent some of yesterday morning with advisers discussing how to co-ordinate the campaign - which focuses on the black flash that runs from her pupil to the iris of her eye; a key distinguishing feature. The campaign launch at Leicester's Walkers Stadium, was led by the former England rugby captain Martin Johnson.
MPs demonstrated the extraordinary resonance of Madeleine's case by wearing yellow ribbons in the House of Commons yesterday and Madeleine's aunt and uncle, John and Philomena McCann, met Chancellor Gordon Brown and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, at Westminster.
A montage featuring new images of Madeleine were screened at half time of the Uefa Cup final in Glasgow between Seville and Espanol. Appealing to the people of Spain, whose border is 90 minutes from Praia, is a vital part of the search.
The campaign even extended to the Cannes Film Festival. Thousands received posters of Madeleine in film trade magazines.
Forensic results from the search of Mr Murat's villa, which seem crucial to the inquiry, may not arrive for several days. Mr Murat's family said the uncertainty had meant he could barely sleep or eat and he spent much of his time pacing up and down.
It is understood officials from the British embassy in Lisbon have been in contact with Mr Murat, and offered him consular support.
Solicitors in Portugal are astonished by Mr Sousa's announcement on Monday that a 33-year-old Briton was his "main suspect" before he had gathered enough evidence to make an arrest. "When police usually say they have a suspect, they already have enough evidence to prosecute him," said a solicitor, Artur Rego.
Though there is no prejudicial risk to Mr Murat - anyone who stands trial will appear before judges, not a jury - Mr Rego voiced concern about the damage to the reputation of a man who is innocent until proved guilty.