Court rules Maria should remain with charity until custody is decided

A court in Larissa, central Greece, on Tuesday ruled that the charity group Smile of the Child should continue to have custody of Maria, a girl aged between 5 and 6 who was found living in a Roma camp in October with a couple that had falsely declared being her biological parents.

The court said the girl should remain in the charity's custody until a final verdict has been issued.

Maria was removed from a Roma camp in Farsala, near Lamia, in October when a prosecutor supervising a police operation in the area became suspicious that the family she was living with was not her own.

She was placed with the Smile of the Child charity as authorities, with the help of Interpol and other local agencies around the world, investigated whether she was a victim of child trafficking after DNA tests confirmed that the couple she was living with Farsala were not her biological parents.

The investigation traced the parents of the girl, who is known as Maria, to a Roma camp in Bulgaria. They said that they were having trouble supporting their large family and had given Maria to the couple in Greece for her well-being.

The finding brought into question whether Maria would have to be returned to Bulgaria and placed with child care services there or whether she would remain in Greece.

The Larissa court on Tuesday deemed that it was in her best interest to remain with Smile of the Child, until it decides whether to grant the charityu full custodial rights.

The couple she was found living with Farsala are currently in pretrial custody for document fraud and abduction, the latter charge being challenged by their lawyer as being unfounded on the grounds of the investigation's findings. The couple had sought custody of Maria after arguing that they had adopted her from her biological parents informally.