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Bulgarian woman claims she's Maria's mom: 'We gifted her' to Roma family

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 9:22 AM EDT, Fri October 25, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "They didn't sell the girl," says boy who claims to be Maria's brother
  • "I didn't have any food to give to the kid," purported mother says
  • DNA test will be done Friday to determine if Bulargian woman's claim is true
  • Greece authorities took Maria from Roma home last week

(CNN) -- A Bulgarian woman claims she is the mother of the blond, blue-eyed girl taken by police from a Roma couple in Greece last week.

The mystery of "Maria," who is believed to be 5 to 6 years old, prompted an international search for the girl's biological family and answers to how she ended up in a Roma community in central Greece.

The woman told Bulgarian investigators that she left the girl in Greece with a family she worked for in 2009, Bulgarian Interior Ministry General Secretary Svetlozar Lazarov said Thursday.

"We gave her, we gifted her, without money," Sashka Ruseva told Bulgaria's TV7 Thursday. "I didn't take any money. I didn't have any food to give to the kid. I saw it yesterday and I've been sick. I haven't eaten since last night."

Maria's photograph has been broadcast worldwide.

Her 15-year-old son also spoke to reporters outside of the police station where they were questioned. Isak Ruseva said his mother "became sad and started crying" when she saw the child in television Wednesday.

"They didn't sell the girl," he said. "They didn't have money to come back and that's why they left her."

CNN visits Roma community where 'Maria' was found

DNA testing set for Friday

This young girl, reportedly named Maria, was taken in by authorities Thursday, October 17, after she was found in a Roma community near Farsala, Greece. A Roma couple was initially charged with abducting her and falsifying official documents, and the case has generated huge interest in Greece. This young girl, reportedly named Maria, was taken in by authorities Thursday, October 17, after she was found in a Roma community near Farsala, Greece. A Roma couple was initially charged with abducting her and falsifying official documents, and the case has generated huge interest in Greece.
'Maria': Greece's mystery girl
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Photos: Greece\'s mystery girl Photos: Greece's mystery girl
Mystery girl found in Greece
Source: Girl is Roma couple's daughter
Life inside Greek Roma camp

A DNA sample will be taken from Ruseva on Friday for comparison with the child in Greece, Lazarov told CNN. Greek officials did not respond when CNN asked if they were providing the child's DNA results to Bulgarian authorities.

Greek authorities charged the Roma couple who had Maria until last week -- Eleftheria Dimopoulou, 40, and Christos Salis, 39 -- Roma couple with abducting the child. They appeared in court Monday and were both remanded into custody pending trial.

Authorities initially asked questions about Maria because she has fair skin and blond hair, while the couple who said they were her parents have darker complexions typical of Roma, a people descended from Indian nomads and who face widespread discrimination in Europe.

Medical tests showed she wasn't their daughter, authorities have said. The girl's DNA didn't match any profile in Interpol's database, the international law enforcement agency said Tuesday.

Their lawyers say the couple took the child into their home after her biological mother, who they say was from Bulgaria, was unable to look after her.

Residents of the Roma community backed that assertion in interviews with CNN.

"Maria used to play here with the other children and go to the store with her mum. Maria was not hidden away," Maria Kaleas said. "The mother gave her away and Eleftheria was enchanted by Maria's beauty. She shared the food for her own children with Maria."

Interpol said Greek authorities have asked for its help in finding out Maria's identity. "Until now, a comparison of the girl's profile against Interpol's global DNA database has not produced a match," Interpol said in a news release.

The agency has more than 600 missing people listed on its website, 32 of whom are 5 or 6 years old.

A spokesman for a Greek children's charity said that about 10 cases of missing children around the world are "being taken very seriously" in connection with Maria's case.

"They include children from the United States, Canada, Poland and France," said Panagiotis Pardalis of the Smile of the Child charity.

The Smile of the Child said the girl, who was found a week ago, is being cared for in a group home.

Greece mystery girl: Interpol says no DNA match in its database

Blond child returned to Roma family in Ireland

As Maria's story became global news, another mystery emerged in Dublin, Ireland when authorities took a blond, blue-eyed girl from a Roma couple there. Police, acting on a tip, removed the 7-year-old girl from a home on Monday and placed her in protective care.

But the child was returned to the couple after DNA test confirmed she is their daughter, a source familiar with the case's legal proceedings told CNN on Wednesday.

The parents, who live in the suburb of Tallaght, told CNN they have a passport for the girl, but they do not call her by the name on the passport.

Their attorney said the couple is going to take some time before considering their legal options, the British Press Association reported.

"Her parents greatly appreciate the help and assistance that they have been given by friends and relatives over the last few days," Waheed Mudah told the PA. "They now intend to concentrate on looking after their family and, in particular, in trying to reassure their daughter that she will be in their care."

Prejudice against the Roma

Prejudice and discrimination against the Roma are widespread in Greece and elsewhere in Europe, Amnesty International says.

Maria's case plays into old prejudices about them stealing children for forced labor.

Pardalis, with the charity now caring for her, mentioned such a possibility, saying, "We don't have any other information if this girl was forced to work or to beg on streets."

The Greek government news agency also raised "the possibility of the existence of a ring bringing pregnant women to Greece from Bulgaria and then taking their children for sale." The agency cited past reports that empty coffins had been found for infants who supposedly were stillborn to foreign mothers in Athens.

Photo blog: The plight of the Roma

CNN's Erin McLaughlin, Boriana Milanova, Karl Penhaul and Elinda Labropoulou contributed to this report.

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