Inside the secretive world of Madeleine's Mercenary

1 December 2007 
The Daily Express
Adrian Lee 

The investigators hired for £14,000 a week by the McCanns insist that they are close to cracking the case. But how credible really is the obscure Spanish detective firm, Metodo 3?

Tucked away in Francisco Marco's overnight bag is a doll. In his mind the 35-year-old has rehearsed countless times the moment he will present it to a sobbing little girl before reaching for his mobile phone and dialling her parents' home in Leicestershire. "I have found Madeleine, " he will state and wait for the screams of joy. For Marco there appears to be no doubt that this is how the story will end. His confident and very public declarations that he will succeed, where police have failed, in finding Madeleine McCann have put him and his private detective agency Metodo 3 in the international spotlight.

This week it was confirmed by Kate and Gerry McCann's spokesman that the Barcelona-based agency is being paid £50,000 a month to scour the globe for Madeleine. The hunt has taken Marco and his team to Bosnia and Morocco but in a case that divides opinion it is no surprise they are causing controversy. While many, including the McCanns, share his unflinching belief that Madeleine is alive, others are convinced his involvement is expensive folly.

Until the agency was hired on a six-month contract the name of Metodo 3 was little known even in Spain, where the family company has established a good reputation over two decades for solving complex corporate fraud cases. Marco's mother Maria Fernandez Lado, 57, who is still involved in the business, founded the detective agency 23 years ago with her husband Francisco Poyuelo, 60. But it is their son who has become the public face.

A devout but conservative Catholic, he is married with two children, Paula, 14, and Nico, six. Born in Barcelona, he lives in a smart area of the city and, when not working in the field, spends most days at Metodo's plush offices in the business district. Unusually for a private detective Marco has a law PhD and displays the certificates on his wall.

It is believed the agency was recommended to the McCanns by a British risk management company, which Kate and Gerry consulted after they began losing faith in Portuguese police.

Before agreeing to take on the case Marco's aides quizzed the McCanns for 10 hours. He was well aware that his company would face ridicule if the parents were proved to be involved in Madeleine's disappearance.
 "We had enough time to establish if the McCanns were trying to fool us, " Marco told a Spanish newspaper. "My specialists assure me they are not hiding anything. I would not risk the prestige this agency has gained over 23 years without being convinced there is a case. For me this is a special case. I have two children. They plead with me, 'Daddy, find Madeleine.'" It is his view that Madeleine was stolen to order and taken to Morocco, where she is being held. He has stated publicly that Metodo 3 will reunite the four-year-old with her family before the contract expires.

Although the latest available company accounts show the agency employs 12 staff, Marco says up to 40 investigators are working on the Madeleine case. Marco, the director general, showed himself to be hands-on when he flew to Morocco to investigate one sighting. Like so many others it turned out to be a dead end.

"In the airport I bought some dolls for Madeleine, " he said after returning from Morocco. "Unfortunately the lead turned out to be false but I still have those dolls and I will take them out of the suitcase the day I find Madeleine. We have the capacity to work in any part of the world. We have rapid contacts with investigators in every country." Asked how he envisages the case ending, he says: "I give Madeleine her dolls, I calm her down, I take her out of wherever she is, I call her parents and put her on the telephone to them." He claims he is "100 per cent sure" Madeleine is alive, that he knows who abducted her and is "very, very close" to finding her.

Marco admits the agency's expertise lies in solving business cases but claims that on the 23 occasions it has been hired to find a missing person it hasn't failed, including recovering a teenage boy from a pervert who was jailed. In another case in Spain the agency tracked down alleged fraudster Francisco Paesa, who had been assumed dead after vanishing in 1998. He was found by the detectives in Luxembourg in November 2004, where he was being protected by six bodyguards. Paesa had published his own death notice so he would be officially considered dead.

More recently Metodo 3 was hired to investigate the finances of 53-year-old Juan Antonio Roca, former planning chief at the town hall in Marbella who is now awaiting trial over a billion pound corruption scandal.

Despite the successes, doubt has been cast over some of the methods used by Metodo and its suitability to be bankrolled by the Find Madeleine Fund, which has raised more than £1million from the British public.

In 1995 five senior members of the agency were arrested in a phonetapping scandal. In a police raid on their offices, handguns, ammunition and listening equipment were seized.

Marco, his mother and brother Francisco Gabriel Fernandez Lado, along with a private detective, were held amid claims of industrial and political espionage. Maria was recorded by police allegedly offering to tap a phone illegally for a client but a judge threw the case out.

Some will have misgivings but it is obvious that Marco and his team have put all their efforts into the hunt for Madeleine with a vigour rarely shown by Portuguese police. The detectives launched a telephone hotline for tip-offs and set about trying to discover new witnesses. They have rattled the cage of Robert Murat, the first official suspect, whose lawyer has accused Metodo's detectives of pressurising witnesses to change statements. He described the investigators as "mercenaries". The agents are also known to be delving into the seedy world of Portuguese paedophiles.

Peter Heims, a veteran private detective and former president of the Association of British Investigators, says: "Often, private detectives can get members of the public to talk when they won't speak to police, especially if money is offered." Although Heims doubts that Madeleine will ever be found, he says one phone call or lucky break could open up the case. He doesn't blame Marco for his public optimism. "Of course while there's so much attention on the case he's going to say that he's close, " says Heims, who believes Metodo may have been authorised to pay a ransom.

As in the UK, where up to 80 per cent of private detectives were once police officers, the Spanish agency is said to have some former members of the Policia Nacional among its ranks.

In their homeland there has been stinging criticism of the agency's tactics, possibly motivated by jealousy. One Spanish private detective says: "Bragging to the press that Madeleine will be found alive is no way to run what is clearly a very serious investigation. The story of the dolls has become an in-joke among detectives. Metodo 3 have always had a reputation for publicity seeking but they have surpassed themselves with this case." Marco has even appeared in a Panorama programme, repeating his claim that he will find Madeleine.

An acquaintance of Marco says: "Francisco thinks he is the best detective in the world and is not shy about telling people that. He is very big-headed. You couldn't buy the sort of publicity they are getting over the Madeleine case." Portuguese police dismiss the agency as "small fry" and accuse it of dredging up old leads that have been rejected. But they are hardly in a position to throw stones and would face further humiliation if the agency solved the case.

Eyebrows have been raised by the size of Metodo's fee but Nigel Parsons, senior investigator for Answers Investigations, one of the UK's biggest detective agencies, says £50,000 a month isn't unreasonable. "With the numbers they have working on the case and the huge scale of the investigation, in many countries, that won't go far. The romantic notion of private detectives in trench coats wandering off for an hour and cracking the case just isn't the reality. If Madeleine is ever to be found it will probably be through sheer hard work." As they wait at the end of the phone, Kate and Gerry McCann know that a portly Spaniard carries most of their hopes.

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