Greece mystery girl: Investigators look at 10 missing children cases

Athens (CNN) — About 10 cases of missing children are “being taken very seriously” in connection with the suspected abduction of a girl by a Roma couple in Greece, a spokesman for a Greek children’s charity said Tuesday.

“They include children from the United States, Canada, Poland and France,” said Panagiotis Pardalis of the Smile of the Child charity.

In a case that has generated huge interest in Greece, authorities have charged the Roma couple with abducting the child they call “Maria.” They appeared in court Monday and were remanded into custody pending a trial.

A lawyer for the couple says the pair adopted the child from her biological mother.

The Smile of the Child said the girl, who was found Thursday in a Roma community near Larissa, central Greece, is now being cared for in a group home.

Children play in a Roma settlement in Farsala, Greece, where the 'Mystery Girl' was found on Saturday, October 19. The case has generated huge interest in Greece.Children play in a Roma settlement in Farsala, Greece, where the ‘Mystery Girl’ was found on Saturday, October 19. The case has generated huge interest in Greece.

Greek authorities have requested international assistance to help identify the four-year-old girl.Greek authorities have requested international assistance to help identify the four-year-old girl.

A handout photo released by Greek police shows the girl, who was found in central Greece during a crackdown on illegal activities by members of the Roma community. A handout photo released by Greek police shows the girl, who was found in central Greece during a crackdown on illegal activities by members of the Roma community.

A woman holding her child poses for photos at the camp near Farsala, which lies some 280km (173 miles) north of Athens, Greece, on Sunday, October 20. A woman holding her child poses for photos at the camp near Farsala, which lies some 280km (173 miles) north of Athens, Greece, on Sunday, October 20.

The lawyer for a Roma couple accused of abducting the blond girl found living with them in Farsala says the pair adopted the child from her biological mother.The lawyer for a Roma couple accused of abducting the blond girl found living with them in Farsala says the pair adopted the child from her biological mother.

But the police say they are suspicious of the records the couple have provided for the child and for other children in the couple's care.But the police say they are suspicious of the records the couple have provided for the child and for other children in the couple’s care.

Panagiotis Pardalis, a spokesman for Smile of the Child, the charity taking care of Maria, said the girl was found amid bad living conditions, poor hygiene.Panagiotis Pardalis, a spokesman for Smile of the Child, the charity taking care of Maria, said the girl was found amid “bad living conditions, poor hygiene.”


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The Roma village where 'Maria' was foundThe Roma village where ‘Maria’ was found


Couple charged in mystery girl case


Mystery girl in Greece not alone


Charity cares for mystery girl in Greece

Medical tests carried out on the girl since she was found indicate she is between 5 and 6 years old, slightly older than initially thought, said Pardalis.

Police have said they are suspicious of the records the couple provided for the child and for other children in their care. In addition to the abduction charge, the couple is accused of falsifying official documents.

Four officials, including the head of the registry office from which Maria got her birth certificate, have been suspended while a police investigation is under way, the media office of the Athens municipality said Tuesday.

The girl received the document this year, it said. It is unusual for a birth certificate to be issued years later.

1,000 years of Roma discrimination

Authorities asked questions about Maria because she has fair skin and blond hair, while her parents have darker complexions typical of Roma, a race descended from Indian nomads who face widespread discrimination in Europe.

Haralambos Dimitriou, head of the local Roma community, said the couple took the girl in because her Bulgarian mother couldn’t keep her. He said Maria was raised like a “normal” child.

Pardalis said Sunday that she was found in “bad living conditions, poor hygiene.”

Calls about the girl

Thousands of calls poured into Greece after authorities released photos of the girl last week.

Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin, whose daughter Lisa Irwin vanished from their home in Kansas City, Missouri, two years ago aged about 11 months, asked the FBI to get in touch with Greek authorities when they heard about the case.

“There is no such thing as a tip too small,” said Bradley, whose hopes were raised despite the apparent disparity in age between their missing daughter and the girl found in Greece.

Authorities released photos of the two adults charged in the case Monday — Eleftheria Dimopoulou, age 40, and 39-year-old Christos Salis — in the hope that the publicity would reach someone who can provide more information about them.

Police said the blond child looked nothing like the man and woman with her, and DNA testing confirmed that they were not her biological parents.

A police statement said the couple “changed repeatedly their story about how they got the child.”

A government news agency said police found suspicious birth and baptism records as well as family registrations that claimed the woman had given birth to 10 children and the man was the father of four more.

Prejudice against the Roma

Prejudice and discrimination against the Roma are widespread in Greece and elsewhere in Europe, Amnesty International says.

Maria’s case plays into old prejudices about them stealing children for forced labor.

Pardalis mentioned such a possibility, saying, “We don’t have any other information if this girl was forced to work or to beg on streets.”

And the government news agency raised “the possibility of the existence of a ring bringing pregnant women to Greece from Bulgaria and then taking their children for sale.” The agency also cited past “reports” that empty coffins were found for infants who supposedly were stillborn to foreign mothers in Athens.

Photo blog: The plight of the Roma

CNN’s Elinda Labropoulou reported from Athens and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN’s George Howell and David Simpson contributed to this report.



Greek economy likely to shrink 3 percent in third quarter

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece’s economy is likely to shrink by about 3 percent in the third quarter, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said on Monday, easing from 3.8 percent in the previous quarter after a revival of tourist revenues.

Such a reading would indicate that the economy, which is in its sixth year of recession, would shrink by about 4 percent this year, in line with forecasts by the government and the country’s international lenders, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

“The Greek economy is certainly entering a new phase,” Stournaras said during a tourism conference in Athens.

“We expect an even better result in the third quarter, probably close to -3 percent, a result in which tourism has certainly contributed significantly.”

The Mediterranean country has pinned its hopes on tourism, which accounts for about a sixth of economic output and employs nearly a fifth of the country’s shrinking workforce, to exit the deep financial crisis.

Stournaras said that in the first eight months of the year foreign tourist arrivals rose by about 15 percent and net tourism receipts by about 18 percent year-on-year.

Tourism officials see a 10 percent revenue rise in 2013, to 11 billion euros (9.3 billion pounds), on the back of more than 17 million visitors.

Greece has been kept on a drip feed of EU/IMF rescue loans since 2010 that have come at the price of austerity cuts and Athens has repeatedly ruled out imposing painful new measures.

The government is aiming for a primary budget surplus of 0.2 percent of GDP this year, in the hope of further debt relief by its international lenders.

It also expects the economy to grow by about 0.6 percent in 2014, which would be the first year of growth since 2007.

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Writing by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Alison Williams)