LONDON (AFP) — A man who walked into a police station five years after disappearing, claiming he had lost his memory, has been arrested on suspicion of fraud, officers said Wednesday as mystery over the case deepened.
In another twist in the story gripping media here, a newspaper published a photograph allegedly showing a smiling John Darwin together with his wife last year in Panama -- where she recently moved after selling up in Britain.
"Following a request from Cleveland police late last night, John Darwin was arrested on suspicion of fraud... He was held in custody overnight," said Detective Superintendent Tony Hutchinson.
Fifty-seven year-old Darwin, who was believed drowned after going canoeing in the North Sea off north-east England in 2002, walked into a central London police station last Saturday and said he was a missing person.
He told police he could remember nothing of the last five years -- and after what was described as an emotional reunion with his children was said to have no memory of anything since June 2000, two years before he went missing.
Hutchinson, issuing an appeal for information on Darwin's whereabouts over the last half decade, confirmed that he was "tanned, well nourished and apparently in good health" when he arrived at the police station.
"John Darwin very well might have been suffering amnesia for five and a half years," he said, but alleged that at the other end of the scale "there has been some criminal offences committed."
He confirmed that police had begun investigating the Darwin case about three months ago after receiving "information to suggest that there was something suspicious with regard to his disappearance," of a "financial" nature.
Suspicion over the case was fueled when the Daily Mirror printed a front-page photograph of what it said was Darwin with his wife Anne in Panama City in July last year.
The picture appears on the website of a Panamanian property company that helps expatriates settle in the country, under the names John and Anne. The firm's boss told the newspaper they had not used the surname "Darwin" and he could not confirm whether they were British.
Anne Darwin, 55, who gave up her husband for dead after his canoe washed up on the shore at Seaton Carew, in north-east England, moved permanently to central America six weeks ago.
She told the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail newspapers that she had received life insurance payments in her husband's name in "good faith" during his disappearance but accepted the money may now have to be repaid.
"If that happens, of course it won't be easy, but I'll deal with it. It is not the money I ever wanted -- it was having my husband back," she said.
Hutchinson said the investigation was at an early stage, but acknowledged that if necessary he will seek Anne Darwin's extradition.
"It is something that we will look at over the coming days, over the coming weeks," he said, while adding: "It is important that we take the inquiry step by step, stage by stage."
The police officer also confirmed that there had been an unconfirmed sighting of Darwin near his home two years ago.
Anne Darwin said she was told of his reappearance Saturday night. "This is the moment I've always prayed for...
"I didn't know what to say, there were so many emotions running through my head... Then he put me on to John. 'I can't believe I'm speaking to you,' I said. And he said pretty much the same."
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