Couple accused of trying to extort €3m from McCanns arrested in hideaway
A COUPLE accused of trying to extort money from missing Madeleine McCann's parents have been arrested at a hideaway in Portugal.
Italian Danilo Chemello and his Portuguese girlfriend Aurora Pereira Vaz hit the headlines in 2007 after being seized in southern Spain over the alleged bid to to get their hands on a €3m reward offered for information on Madeleine's whereabouts.
The case never came to trial despite lurid reports about their past and the discovery of newspaper cuttings about Madeleine in their luxury home in Sotogrande, southern Spain.
The couple managed to relocate to the Algarve despite Chemello being wanted by authorities in France.
They were arrested at a rented house in the coastal resort of Estoril near Lisbon on Wednesday - where they had been living since January under false identities with two teenage children.
Portuguese police said they acted on three European arrest warrants.
A spokesperson for Portugal's PSP police, which arrested Chemello and Vaz, said the three European arrest warrants they executed were issued by France and Italy for a man aged 67 and a woman aged 60.
He said they were not aware of any European arrest warrant issued against the couple by Spain - where they were arrested in 2007 over the alleged Madeleine Mccann extortion attempt.
Millionaire ex-construction tycoon Chemello, 67, is set to be extradited to France shortly after being remanded in jail following a court appearance in Cascais near Estoril.
Vaz, 60, is expected to be kept in Portugal.
A French court sentenced them to 18 months in jail for making a false birth register around the time they are believed to have set up home on the Algarve.
The pair failed to turn up in court and an arrest warrant was issued.
Chemello, convicted and caged along with Vaz for 10 months for child abuse in a separate case for feeding his stepdaughter dog food and locking her in a bedroom with her hands and legs tied with tape, is also wanted for trying to blackmail the French judge who jailed them.
He was reportedly sentenced to three years in prison in his absence after hiring a private detective to probe the woman's judge's private life and then using the information to blackmail her.
Italian authorities accused the couple of kneecapping Vaz's husband Alberto Tana during a bitter custody battle over her daughter in Rome in 1996.
Although cleared of ordering the shooting, both were given 16-month jail sentences for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and and firearms offences.
The teenage children living with Vaz and Chemello in Portugal are understood to be her two children.
They have been taken to a children's home in Portugal.
One neighbour at their home in Estoril, home to Europe's largest casino, told a local paper he had never seen them playing in the street and said he thought they weren't even going to school.
Specialist anti-kidnap police stormed the couple's house in Sotogrande in June 2007 to arrest them over their alleged bid to extort money from Madeleine McCann's parents.
At the time they were said to have tried to claim a multi-million euro reward through a Malaga-based lawyer.
Chemello and Vaz appeared in a closed court hearing before he was transferred to Spain's National Criminal Court for an extradition hearing on an unrelated matter and she was released on bail.
It was unclear today whether the case against them had been dropped or was still being investigated by a court in San Roque near Cadiz - and had simply been put on hold while the other cases against them are dealt with first.
The arrests came on the eve of an announcement by Scotland Yard it has opened a formal investigation into Madeleine McCann's disappearance.
British police have formally asked the Crown Prosecution Service to submit an international letter of request to Portuguese authorities for assistance in obtaining evidence relating to their inquiries.
The Metropolitan Police has asked for a small number of its officers to be present in Portugal for the inquiries there.
It has also said it still believes there is a chance Madeleine is alive and it is investigating 38 "persons of interest" from five European countries, including 12 British nationals.
A spokesman for the office of Portugal's Attorney General, which archived the Madeleine McCann investigation in July 2008, said today/yesterday (FRI): "No request for mutual judicial assistance from the UK has yet been received."
Pedro do Carmo, head of Portugal's Policia Judiciaria, added: "Investigations in Portugal are carried out by the Department of Public Prosecution and the Portuguese police.
"But requests from foreign authorities to be present arrive fairly frequently."
Portugal's Ministry of Justice is expected to be tasked with authorising the request when it arrives.