By Sara Rossi
MILAN (Reuters) – The lawyer for a 20-year-old British model at the center of an alleged kidnapping in Italy has denied suggestions that the case was a hoax, after local media raised doubts about her story.
Italian police said on Saturday they had arrested the alleged kidnapper who confessed to being involved in a plot to auction the model online unless a $300,000 ransom was paid.
But people in the Italian village where Chloe Ayling said she was held captive told local media that she and the man went out together.
Some residents told state broadcaster Rai that the couple went to a bar and that she also went shoe shopping with Lukasz Pawel Herba, 30, a British resident born in Poland, before he released her to the British consulate in Milan.
“The implication that she was involved (in the plot) – as I read with disgust in some newspapers this morning – is just unimaginable,” Milan-based lawyer Francesco Pesce told Reuters.
Ayling told police she had been lured to Milan last month for a photo shoot, according to police documents reviewed by Reuters. She said that on arrival at the studio she was drugged, gagged, bound, stuffed into a bag, put into the boot of a car and driven to a village in northwest Italy where she was held for six days.
Four or five men were involved in the kidnapping, according to her account. Herba told police he freed her and handed her to the consulate after the group became aware she had a young child, according to documents outlining his testimony.
Milan police, who are still investigating the case, declined to comment on Tuesday.
Pesce said the kidnappers had removed Ayling’s restraints in the village but threatened to kill her if she tried to run away or tell anyone she was being held there against her will.
“A 20-year-old, drugged, stuffed into a bag and kidnapped … I can well understand that she believed them,” he said.
“There doesn’t need to be a physical restraint if there is a death threat … The girl said she tried to be very compliant with him (Herba),” Pesce added.
(Editing by Mark Bendeich and Andrew Bolton)