Sunday 30 April 2017

'My wife is still alive' claims cruise ship murder suspect

Lawyer calls for Interpol search to find missing passenger as husband says she may have returned to Dublin

MYSTERY AT SEA: IT consultant Daniel Belling and his wife Li Yinglei, who vanished during a family cruise in the Med on board the MSC Magnifica Picture: Kyran O'Brien
MYSTERY AT SEA: IT consultant Daniel Belling and his wife Li Yinglei, who vanished during a family cruise in the Med on board the MSC Magnifica Picture: Kyran O'Brien
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The Dublin-based IT consultant in prison in Italy on suspicion of murdering his wife during a Mediterranean cruise believes she is still alive and is either in Dublin or her native China.

Daniel Belling (45) said he last saw Li Yinglei when their ship docked on the Greek island of Katakolon. When he returned to the vessel after an outing with his sons, she had gone, along with her suitcase and her mobile phone, he claimed.

Mr Belling's lawyer, Luigi Conti, told the Sunday Independent yesterday that his client did not kill his wife. He said Ms Yinglei was a missing person and the international police agency Interpol was obliged to search for her.

"Now we want her as a missing person because we do not have the body of this person," he said.

In the meantime, Mr Belling languishes in a prison cell in Rome while their two young children are in the care of Italian social services. Efforts are being made to repatriate them.

Mr Belling, who is originally from Germany, made international headlines last Thursday when he was arrested at an Italian airport as he was about to board a plane home to Ireland after his wife vanished from the luxury cruise.

The couple, who live in Clare Hall in Dublin, had set off on an 11-day cruise with their two children aboard the MSC Magnifica.

The ship set sail from the Italian port of Civitavecchia on February 9 and continued on to Genoa, Malta, Greece and Cyprus.

Crew members noticed Ms Yinglei was missing when they did a head count at the end of the cruise.

They alerted police, who arrested Mr Belling at Ciampino Airport in Rome as he was about to board a Ryanair flight with his children.

Ms Yinglei was registered on the Magnifica's passenger record on February 10, following a stop-over at Genoa, the day after the ship set sail.

A souvenir shop owner later told reporters that she remembered the couple and their two children in her store that morning, when Mr Belling was "agitated" and "yelled" at his wife over her shoes.

"He said: 'Put these on instead of your sandals and shut up'," she said, adding that he handed his wife a pair of gym shoes.

However, according to local reports, Mr Belling told a magistrate during a prison court hearing last Friday that the family remained together until the ship reached Katakolon.

Mr Belling reportedly told the judge that they had quarrelled the night before and she wanted to "quit the trip". According reports in local Italian press, he claimed his wife left while he was on an outing with the boys. 

Read more: Murder accused ran 'Cinderella' wedding business with wife who disappeared from cruise

"I thought she was returning to Dublin. She was acting weird lately," he reportedly told the judge.

Mr Belling did not report his wife's disappearance to the ship's staff. However, his lawyer, Mr Conti, told the Sunday Independent that after she left, Mr Belling informed the cleaning personnel that three people were now staying in the room, not four.

"This comportment [is] not the comportment of a killer," he said.

If Mr Belling thought his wife may have returned to Dublin, there was no sign of her at the couple's apartment in Clare Hall in north Dublin yesterday. The mobile phone number she used for her wedding planning business went to voicemail with the message: "Hi, this is Angie."

Mr Belling and Ms Yinglei, who also goes by the name Angie Li, have lived in the apartment block near the Clare Hall shopping centre for several years. Mr Belling worked as an IT consultant to firms such as Apple while Ms Yinglei set up her own wedding planning business targeted at the Chinese community in the city. Their two sons, aged six and four, were born here.

Like many families, they fell on hard times during the recession.

In 2010, they both lost their jobs and they fell behind with their rent on their apartment in west Dublin and had been served with eviction notices. The landlord accused them of keeping two kittens against the rules and of subletting the flat.

They ended up in court, after Ms Yinglei returned from a trip to China to share wedding photos with her family and discovered that they had been evicted from their apartment.

According to a court report of the case in 2011, Ms Yinglei was in the apartment when gardai were called. She refused to come to the door and a garda eventually broke it down. Ms Yinglei was prosecuted for burglary and criminal damage but the judge dismissed the charges.

The couple moved to Clare Hall and Ms Yinglei started her wedding business in 2015, offering unique designs with "trendy and innovative touches and bespoke events".

The website featured numerous podcasts, some in Chinese, and one from "Daniel and Angie" at the Bloom Festival.

According to Mr Conti, the couple had parted company on holidays before. On one occasion, Ms Yinglei returned to Dublin. "Another time the wife go for six months in China. This is the type of relationship in this family," he said.

Mr Belling remained in Regina Coeli prison in Rome this weekend. He appeared before a magistrate in the prison's court last Friday.

He has been formally charged and remanded in custody pending an investigation.

Mr Conti said his client "will respond to all questions, he wants to speak… he wants to make a declaration."

Sunday Independent

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