As if the mysterious murder of three members of a British-Iraqi family and a bicyclist in the French Alps needed more drama, the case took a bizarre turn on Tuesday as police arrested a Nigerian-born man in London on related fraud charges.
Just days after Saad Al-Hilli,50, his wife Iqbal, 47, and her mother Suhaila Al-Allaf, 74, and French bicyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, were murdered—execution style—in the French alps where the Al-Hilli family was vacationing, Abiodun David John allegedly tried to access Al-Hilli’s bank account from his home in London, according to investigators.
Police arrested the 32-year-old on Sept. 25 after raids on his home produced a cache of mobile phones and allegedly incriminating documents. He was released on bond after police in Surrey, where the Al-Hillis lived before they were killed, corroborated his alibi for the day of the murder. But on Tuesday, John was placed back in custody in the U.K., awaiting charges of fraud.
While he was free, John told investigators that he had never tried to access the Al-Hilli account, but the police say he made accurate wire transfer inquiries to accounts under Saad Al-Hilli’s name at both the Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC branches in Surrey.
“When the police came into my house I did not know what they were talking about,” John told the local Manchester Evening News television station. “They were talking about a dead man and said that I did it—took some money from a dead man’s account. They took me to the police station and they explained why I had been arrested. I was completely shocked. I did not know where the police were coming from … I am totally innocent.”
Al-Hilli’s financial dealings are at the center of the murder investigation. Detectives looking into potential motives for the multiple homicides in an attempt to find a trail to the murderer discovered secret bank accounts, properties, and ties between Al-Hilli’s late father and Saddam Hussein. The elder Al-Hilli is believed to have been a money runner for the late dictator, part of an expansive network of Iraqis who fled the country under the false pretense of political asylum, when in fact they were actually smuggling millions of dollars to Europe.
In the days before he was killed, Saad Al-Hilli is believed to have visited a secret Swiss bank account in Geneva, just an hour from where he and his family went on a camping holiday. Saad’s brother, Zaid, has also been questioned in connection with the case, but so far is not considered a suspect.
Meanwhile, Al-Hilli’s surviving daughters are slowly revealing what they know to police. Seven-year-old Zainab, who was found alive outside the car with severe injuries to the head and a gunshot wound to the shoulder, has told British police that there was only “one bad man” who killed her parents and grandmother. Her 4-year-old sister, Zeena, was discovered unharmed hiding under her mother’s corpse in the back seat of the stalled car. The young girls are the only known material witnesses to the murder, but even they won’t be able to shed light on the increasingly bizarre financial aspects of the case.
John’s arrest only appeared to complicate matters for investigators. If he was an associate of Al-Hilli’s with access to his bank accounts, on whose orders—posthumous or living—was he trying to extract money? And if John wasn’t the one who attempted to access the accounts, the question remains, who was? Eric Maillaud, the lead French prosecutor, says the dual French-British investigation teams are nowhere near solving the mystery and each new lead just adds another obstacle to finding the truth.