Portugal prosecutor sends Madeleine case to judge

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LISBON, Sep 11 (Reuters) Portugal's public prosecutor today passed the case against the parents of missing 4-year-old Madeleine McCann to a criminal judge who will decide whether there are grounds for a trial.

Kate and Gerry McCann were declared suspects in the case last week but were allowed to leave for England on Sunday.

''The case was submitted to the criminal judge who will decide on it at an opportune moment,'' a spokeswoman at the prosecutor's office in the Algarve town of Portimao said in a televised statement.

The judge can decide there is enough evidence for a trial or reject the case for having insufficient evidence.

The spokeswoman gave no details of the evidence or what accusations the McCanns might face in the case involving their daughter's disappearance from a hotel room in an Algarve resort on May 3.

But the prosecutor's office said that the next steps in the continuing investigation, would be decided within 10 days, including any possible new measures against the McCanns.

In a statement, the Algarve prosecutor also said it was handing the matter to a more senior prosecutor in a neighbouring region, in a sign of the importance of the case.

Until last week there was not sufficient evidence to do anything other than name the McCanns as suspects, it said.

The file includes the results of forensic tests of evidence taken from various sites in the Praia da Luz resort where Madeleine vanished and details of police interviews with the McCanns. They were both interviewed for several hours last week.

On his blog (www.findmadeleine.com), Gerry McCann denied any involvement in the disappearance of his daughter.

''We have absolute confidence that, when all of the facts are presented together, we will be able to demonstrate that we played absolutely no part in Madeleine's abduction,'' he said.

''Kate and I are totally 100 percent confident in each other's innocence and our family and friends have rallied round unflinchingly to support us. The pain and turmoil we have experienced in this last week is totally beyond description.'' The forensic evidence may clear up whether Madeleine's DNA was found in a car hired by the McCanns after she disappeared.

Alipio Ribeiro, head of the judicial police investigating the case, said it was not conclusive.

Facing criticism that the investigation has been too slow, Portuguese Justice Minister Alberto Costa said the police force was ''investigating with all its competence and with all necessary resources''.

''I have full confidence in the police,'' he was quoted as saying by TSF radio.

After their daughter's disappearance, the McCanns launched a high-profile publicity campaign across Europe to try to find her. Police have said they believe the little girl is dead.

With Portugal's slow-moving legal system, where courts and prosecutors are overburdened with cases, the case could drag on for many more months, legal experts said.

Kate McCann told a British Sunday newspaper that detectives had pressured her to confess to having accidentally killed her daughter.

''They want me to lie. I am being framed,'' she was quoted as saying in the Sunday Mirror.

The couple are now at home in the village of Rothley, Leicestershire, with crowds of journalists camped outside.

Reuters TB VP0145

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