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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Suspect in Natalee Holloway’s death pleads not guilty to extorting her mother

By Lauren McCarthy

Joran van der Sloot, who has been linked to the 2005 disappearance of an American teenager, Natalee Holloway, pleaded not guilty to extortion and fraud charges in court in Birmingham, Alabama, on Friday after he was temporarily extradited from Peru to the United States.

At his appearance at the Hugo L. Black U.S. Courthouse, van der Sloot spoke only to decline the services of a Dutch translator and to acknowledge that he understood the charges against him.

He pleaded not guilty through his lawyer, Kevin Butler, a federal public defender.

Before arriving in Alabama on Thursday afternoon, van der Sloot, 35, had been serving a prison sentence in Peru, where he pleaded guilty to the 2010 murder of a 21-year-old Peruvian student, Stephany Flores.

Last month, Peruvian authorities announced that they would allow his extradition temporarily to ensure that he “finally faces justice” in the United States.

“Peru was very instrumental in this process,” said George Seymore, a representative for Beth Holloway, Natalee Holloway’s mother. “They did not have to allow this process to go forward.”

Around the time of his arrest in the Flores case, van der Sloot was indicted by a federal grand jury in Alabama on charges of trying to extort Beth Holloway for $250,000 for information about how her daughter died and the location of her body, which has never been found.

He accepted an initial payment of $25,000 in an FBI sting operation and gave what he knew was false information, authorities said at the time.

Natalee Holloway was 18 when she disappeared after a night out in Aruba on May 30, 2005, during a trip with her Alabama high school class. A judge declared her legally dead in 2012, but the unsolved case has generated public interest for years.

“Now, 18 years later, the wheels of justice have finally begun to turn for our family, and we are getting our long-awaited day in court,” Beth Holloway said in a statement. “With the felony arraignment complete, prosecution of this criminal case has officially begun.”

Holloway added that van der Sloot’s not guilty plea was “not disheartening to us” and that she was confident that federal prosecutors would gain a conviction.

Lawyers for the Holloway family expect the case to go to trial, but the timing remains unclear.

“While today’s arraignment represents a significant step forward, we must remember that the pursuit of justice is far from over,” John Q. Kelly, a lawyer for Holloway, said in a statement.

Van der Sloot was being held at the Shelby County Jail in Alabama as of Friday.

If he is found guilty in the extortion case, he will first return to Peru to complete the rest of his 28-year sentence for the murder of Flores, who was killed by strangulation, before returning to the United States for prison time.

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