Authorities release suspect in Aruba case

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AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) – The latest lead in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway evaporated Tuesday when Dutch police released a man identified by witnesses as having long, deep scratches on his face shortly after the Alabama teen vanished in Aruba nearly a year ago.

The suspect’s lawyer said it was not hard to prove the story was nonsense.

The man, identified only as “Guido W.,” 19, was freed unconditionally with the consent of Aruba prosecutors after six “long, hard days” of questioning, attorney Gerard Spong said. He was the ninth person arrested and jailed in the case. All have been freed for lack of evidence.

However, Guido W. remained a suspect and agreed to be available for questioning when summoned by police, Spong told The Associated Press.

The suspect was a croupier at the casino in the Holiday Inn where the 18-year-old Holloway was staying when she disappeared May 30, 2005, during a high school graduation trip to the Dutch Caribbean island. The Mountain Brook, Ala., woman was last seen leaving a bar with three young men on the last night of her trip.

Islanders fear that Aruba, which gets 70 percent of its gross domestic product from tourism, will be permanently scarred by the mystery.

The release of Guido W. apparently leaves Aruban authorities no closer to cracking a case that has generated worldwide media attention and tarnished the island’s reputation. A man answering the phone at the suspect’s family’s home in Aruba said the family would not make any statements.

“The family has made it perfectly clear that they will not comment, react, whatsoever to whomsoever,” said the man, who did not identify himself. “We refer everybody to the lawyer … the family wants to be left alone right now.”

Guido W.’s parents said Monday their son was “innocent until proven guilty,” and they “cannot believe that he could have anything to do with the case.”

The man was freed hours before a scheduled court hearing in The Hague on Aruba’s request to transfer him to the island for further investigation. Spong said the Aruban prosecutor was persuaded there was an insufficient case to support the transfer request, and the hearing was canceled.

Guido W. was detained after five witnesses claimed to have seen him with deep, 3-inch-long scratches on his face that could have come from human nails, Spong said.

But those witness accounts were delivered eight months after the disappearance, he said. Police had questioned the teenager three times before he left Aruba on June 8, and no one had reported seeing suspicious facial scars.

The defense also had testimony from the suspect’s tennis coach that he was not scarred and photographs of him from that period, the lawyer said.

“It was obvious that this was a fake story,” he said.

Spong said the witnesses were fellow casino workers, but he declined to speculate on the motives behind their statements.

Spong said prosecutors had raised other reasons for their suspicions, including what they called Guido W.’s hasty departure from Aruba just nine days after Holloway’s disappearance.

But Spong said the young man’s father booked the air ticket to the Netherlands a month earlier, long before Holloway landed on the island.

Police also questioned him about the white car he drove in Aruba. A white car was seen near where Holloway disappeared, but Spong said “half the population” of Aruba drives similar cars.

Guido W. went back and forth to Aruba to be with his separated parents but since has returned to his studies in the Netherlands. Spong refused to say where he was now.

Guido was a friend of Joran van der Sloot, the last person known to have seen Holloway alive. Van der Sloot says he left Holloway alone on a beach after they kissed.

Holloway’s parents are trying to sue Van der Sloot, 18, in New York. Their suit alleges he imprisoned and sexually assaulted Holloway, and caused her disappearance.

While Aruban authorities are keeping all options open, they believe Holloway most likely is dead and buried on the island. Police say prevailing currents likely would have washed her body ashore if she drowned or if her body was thrown into the sea.

In January, Aruban police searched sand dunes on the northwest coast of the island. Dutch marines, the Aruban coast guard, the FBI and hundreds of volunteers also searched the island and coastal areas for Holloway.

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