Madeleine businessman appears in court

25 November 2009 
Press Association
Laura May

A businessman whose firm helped look for Madeleine McCann and who is wanted in the US for an alleged £1.2 million fraud, appeared in court today. Kevin Halligen, 48, faced City of Westminster magistrates after he was arrested on an extradition warrant in Oxford. The US Department of Justice issued an indictment for Halligen, from Surrey, earlier this month alleging that he tried to defraud a London law firm of 2.1 million US dollars (£1.3 million). They claim that he took the money as part of a deal to secure the release of Dutch business executives arrested in the Ivory Coast, but instead spent it on a mansion, a gift to his girlfriend, cash machine withdrawals and debit-card transactions. He was arrested at a hotel in Oxford yesterday where he has been staying for several months under an assumed name.

Following a short hearing at court today, he was refused bail and he was remanded in custody until December 2, when the case will be heard again.

Halligen's firm, Oakley International, was used by Madeleine's parents Kate and Gerry for around six months last year to look for their missing daughter. The Washington-based firm was paid about £300,000 by backers of Mr and Mrs McCann to help look for the child after she went missing from an Algarve resort in May 2007 at the age of three. The six-month contract saw the firm hire other private detectives, set up a hotline and process information. The firm had initially been given a £500,000 contract but the McCanns terminated the arrangement before paying any more fees.

Melanie Cumberland, acting for the UK government, told the court today that she was not aware of any proceedings arising from that matter. But the court did hear that Halligen claims that he had been forced to move from his UK address into a series of hotels after press attention as a result of the arrangement with the McCanns. The Irish national, the court heard, had been staying at a series of addresses over the last eight months in a bid to evade reporters.

Ms Cumberland told the court that Halligen was wanted in the US for taking money from the Dutch company Trafigura, via a London-based law firm, and failing to send it as agreed on the release of their employees. She said that he had been employed after the pair were arrested following a petro-chemical spill on the Ivory Coast. Instead, she said, he spent 1.7 million dollars (about £1 million) on a mansion, 141,000 dollars (£84,000) in a gift to his girlfriend and more than 43,000 dollars (£26,000) in cash on other items.

She said that when he was arrested yesterday at the Old Bank Hotel in Oxford over a discrepancy in a bill of just over £5,000, police discovered that he had already packed his bag in readiness to leave. She said that the UK Government objected to any application for bail on the basis that the lengthy prison sentence Halligen could expect if convicted would provide "strong incentives to flee". She said that after the money that Halligen spent, that would "still leave a substantial sum of money", which could enable him to abscond.

Refusing bail, Judge Howard Riddle said: "I note the gravity of the offences alleged and the high value involved. At this stage, comparatively little is known about his movements, how he came to be in this country and where he has been staying." Halligen was told that he could apply again for bail at the December 2 hearing and the court heard that a full extradition request was likely to be submitted by the US authorities by the end of January next year.

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