LONDON (Reuters) - The lawyer for a man accused of being part of a plot to kidnap a British model in Italy, told a London court on Monday there were grounds to suspect the whole case was a sham.
Model Chloe Ayling, 20, has told Italian police she was lured to a photo shoot in Milan in July, abducted and held captive for six days. Her lawyer said the plot was to sell the model for sex in an online auction unless a ransom was paid.
In August, Italian police arrested the alleged kidnapper, Lukasz Pawel Herba, 30, and subsequently British police detained his Polish-born brother Michal in central England on behalf of the Italian authorities.
Michal Herba, 36, is fighting extradition to Italy and at a hearing at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Monday, his lawyer George Hepburne Scott said the Italian authorities had failed to provide any details of what Herba is accused of having done.
“There are reasonable grounds to believe that the entire case is a sham,” Hepburne Scott said, adding that there were a “unique set” of anomalies in the case which “may lead to the conclusion that the Italian authorities have been duped and that their process had been abused.”
At the last hearing in August, Florence Iveson, the prosecutor acting on behalf of the Italian authorities, said the two brothers were accused of abducting, kidnapping and detaining Ayling between July 11 and 17 and demanding a ransom of 300,000 euros (263,668.67 pounds) .
Since her return to Britain, Ayling has given a number of TV and press interviews in which she said she was drugged, gagged, bound, stuffed into a bag, put into the boot of a car and driven to a village near Turin in northwest Italy.
She denied suggestions the case was a hoax, after it was reported in the media she had gone shopping with her alleged abductor. Ayling’s spokesman was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Reuters.
Hepburne Scott listed a number of these reports but judge Paul Goldspring said because they had appeared in the media, it did not make them true.
“Some believe it to be a sham,” the judge said. “This material doesn’t prove that.”
He added that he had no reason to believe that Herba would not receive a fair trial in Italy, and that the London court was not the place where evidence over Herba’s involvement should be directly assessed.
Herba faced questions over a partner he said was having his baby in October.
“For now, I cannot give her name, for she is heavily pregnant and that could add to her stress,” Herba told the court via an interpreter.
He said that it was important for him to stay in Britain and have a role in bringing up the child. “I don’t have a strong feeling that he must be lying,” Goldspring said.
The case was adjourned, with a decision on extradition scheduled for Friday.
Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Andrew Heavens