A computer consultant is due to appear before an Italian court on 24 February accused of murdering his wife, who disappeared during a luxury Mediterranean cruise.
The man, named as German citizen Daniel Belling, was travelling across the Mediterranean on a luxury cruise ship with his Chinese wife Xing Lei Li and their two children. The family boarded the cruise ship MSC Magnifica in Rome on 9 February, but when the ship returned to the port 11 days later, on 20 February, the woman was nowhere to be found.
The man's behaviour attracted suspicions as he did not report his wife's disappearance to the local authorities once he arrived in Rome, but was ready to board a flight with his children returning to Dublin, where he works for the tech giant Apple.
He was arrested at the Ciampino airport near Rome after the ship captain alerted the police, noting the woman was missing after checking the passenger list.
According to reports in the Italian media, Belling told the police she had left voluntarily, which is why he did not report her disappearance. "There is surely a more than reasonable explanation for this matter, but currently our client is also worried about his wife's disappearance", Belling's lawyers Laura Camomilla and Luigi Conti told an Italian TV programme specialising in investigating missing people.
Reacting to the Facebook page of the TV programme, two separate women said they were on the ship and noticed that the man was always seen alone, and that the children who were with him were "dirty" and "always barefoot".
They seem to confirm the account of a third woman who called the TV programme to say that they last saw the woman in Genoa, soon after the ship had arrived. "I noticed them because they were very weird, the children were dirty and barefoot," she said. "We last saw him in Ciampino, alone, and that's where we wondered what had happened to his wife."
Italian police are looking to charge the man with murder and preventing a lawful burial, as the body of the woman has not yet been found. The authorities have asked for the arrest of her husband after having listened to the couple's sons, who are 6 and 4 years old, describe the events, supported by a psychologist.
According to their account, quoted in the Italian newspaper Il Secolo XIX, Belling had gone out with his wife one evening on the ship, but returned to the family cabin alone. Every time the children would ask where their mother was, the man would reply evasively, and told them to calm down when they insisted.
A souvenir shop owner in Genoa (a coastal city in northern Italy) reportedly told police he saw Belling shouting at his wife and throwing a pair of shoes at her in the shop. "I remember it very well" the shop owner said, quoted in Il Secolo XIX. "We had just opened the shop and it was 10am. She came in to buy some souvenirs along with two children. Then he arrived. He was nervous, he got some trainers from a backpack and threw them at her, shouting 'wear them instead of the flip flops and shut up.'"
Genoa is where the woman's trace endd, as that's where she last used her electronic boarding pass to return to the ship.