Claygate: French Alps Murder Update

21 February 2014, 15:45

No charges are being brought against a man arrested in connection with the killing of a Surrey engineer and his family, French prosecutors have said.

The 48-year-old has been released from police custody in relation to the killings but is still being investigated over his alleged involvement in arms trafficking.

Saad al-Hilli and his wife Ikbal, from Claygate in Surrey, and her mother Suhaila al-Allaf, who lived in Sweden, were shot dead on a remote forest road in Chevaline, near Annecy, on September 5, 2012. A local cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, was also murdered.

French police arrested a 48-year-old, believed to be a former policeman from the Haute-Savoie region of France, in connection with the killings on Tuesday.

French prosecutor Eric Maillaud said he was released from police custody after investigators found "no direct link'' between him and the events of September 5.

The weapon used in the crime has not been found, and neither has the helmet featured in an e-fit of a motorcyclist spotted near the scene of the shootings, nor the motorbike.

He said the investigation into the murders is continuing.

Mr Maillaud said: "The searches and interviews of the last three days have not enabled us to establish a direct link between the events of 5 September 2012 and this man, a war weapons enthusiast, who looked very like the e-fit released on 4 November 2013 and who was near to the place where the incident took place when it happened.

"The weapon used in the crime has not been found, neither has the helmet which featured in the e-fit, nor the motorbike described by several witnesses which investigators were looking for.

"The investigation continues.

"However, the man will be taken into custody, overseen by the public prosecutor's office in Annecy, in connection with illicit trading in wartime weapons and ammunition found during searches by investigators, this illicit activity being carried out as part of an organised gang.''

On Wednesday, Mr Maillaud told journalists that 40 wartime guns were found when officers searched the suspect's home and that of his in-laws, but not the murder weapon.

According to local media, the man arrested in France is a former municipal policeman who lived close to the scene of the murders in Chevaline. He was reportedly dismissed from the force last June.

The murders were discovered by cyclist Brett Martin, who found Iraqi-born Mr al-Hilli, 50, his 47-year-old dentist wife and her elderly mother blasted to death in their BMW.

The al-Hillis' eldest daughter, Zainab, was shot in the shoulder and beaten, but survived. Her then four-year-old sister Zeena lay hidden under her mother's body and was only discovered eight hours after the murders.

Since the deaths, speculation has surrounded whether the shooting was linked to the al-Hillis' native Iraq, or Saad al-Hilli's work as a satellite engineer.

In November, police released an artist's impression of a motorcyclist seen riding in the area between 3.15pm and 3.40pm on the day in question.

The man's helmet was said by Mr Maillaud at the time to be ''very particular'' and one of only a few thousand models worldwide, with a bottom section which opened sideways to reveal the lower face.

French police said the only similar helmet on the market is made by GPA and is an ISR model.

Last month, Mr al-Hilli's brother Zaid al-Hilli, who was arrested in connection with the shooting, had his bail cancelled by Surrey Police after the force decided there was not enough evidence to charge him with a crime.

The al-Hilli brothers were alleged to have been locked in an inheritance dispute centred on the £825,000 home in Claygate, where Saad and his family lived after their mother died from a heart attack in 2003.

Zaid, who inherited half the property, claimed that in 2011 his brother began to demand his share of the house ''there and then'' and pinned him down during a row.

The two men never spoke again except through lawyers, but Zaid denied rumours that he had threatened to kill his brother.

He said he knew little about a Swiss bank account containing the proceeds from their father's business in Iraq and would not comment on claims that he attempted to access it using an expired card or tried to fake their father's will.

A second man was also arrested earlier this week in connection with alleged arms trading.

He remains in custody.