|Page (1) of 1 - 12/01/11||email article||print page|
Businessman Gary Giordano denies involvement in disappearance of Aruba travel companion
WASHINGTON (AP) ' An American businessman suspected in the presumed death of his traveling companion in Aruba said Thursday that he had nothing to do with her disappearance.
Appearing on ABC television's "Good Morning America," Gary Giordano defended his actions in the wake of Robyn Gardner's disappearance, criticized his former attorney and said the Aruban economy was driven by cocaine and human trafficking.
Later Thursday, the chief Aruban prosecutor said Giordano remains the chief suspect in Gardner's death and that the investigation remains active.
The interview was Giordano's first since he was released Tuesday from an Aruban jail. He flew Wednesday to the United States, and after he landed, an appeals court ruled that prosecutors lacked sufficient evidence to continue holding him. Later Wednesday, the 50-year-old employment services company owner was reunited with his three sons.
In an 11-minute interview with "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts, Giordano, 50, refused to detail what happened to Gardner on Aug. 2. That was the last day she was seen alive, and he said he has told that story to investigators "50, 60 times." He has said she was swept out to sea while snorkeling with him. Her body has not been found.
Asked whether he had anything to do with Gardner's disappearance, Giordano said, "absolutely not."
But he said he does have regrets.
"A person that I cared about, a companion ... has disappeared on my watch," he said. "It will weigh heavily on me for a very long time."
The case recalled that of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway, who disappeared in May 2005 on a high school graduation trip to Aruba. Her body also was never found and the prime suspect, Joran van der Sloot, was detained for months before being released for lack of evidence. He is now facing trial in the death of a woman in Peru.
Aruban Solicitor General Taco Stein said authorities would ask for Giordano's extradition as soon as they are ready to bring charges. But with no direct evidence that a crime was even committed, there is no guarantee that charges will be filed. The FBI is assisting with the probe, and Stein said he could not say when it would conclude.
Giordano's attorneys have said he likely cannot be returned to Aruba unless prosecutors intend to bring him to trial.
Stein said the interview did not change his opinion that Giordano is the main suspect.
"Clearly, if you look at what he said there, he is avoiding the subject and not making clear statements about what happened," Stein said.
Giordano tried to clarify aspects of his behavior that investigators have called suspicious. He said the $1.5 million accidental death policy he took out on Gardner was part of a travel insurance package that covered both of them. Giordano, who is divorced, said he always takes out travel insurance because he wants his sons to be protected if something happens to him.
"If I go traveling and I disappear, I want them to be covered. I maxed out on everything," Giordano said.
He said he inquired about the insurance two days after Gardner's disappearance on the advice of his former attorney, Michael Lopez. He said Lopez told him he could be billed for expenses related to the search for Gardner.
Prosecutors have mentioned the insurance policy as a possible motive in Gardner's death.
Giordano denied that he and Gardner had been drinking before they went snorkeling. "We were a sober couple," he said.
He also said surveillance video of him in the immediate aftermath of Gardner's disappearance fails to capture his sense of urgency. The video shows him shirtless, wearing swim trunks and tennis shoes, knocking on doors. He does not appear panicked.
He said he was exhausted after swimming back to shore and couldn't find anyone.
"There's nobody there! I'm supposed to scream into the air?" Giordano said.
Giordano was arrested Aug. 5 as he was preparing to board his previously scheduled flight out of Aruba. He said he had been told by authorities that he could leave and that Gardner's mother also encouraged him to go home.
Gardner's friends and family have expressed doubts about her disappearance, saying it was unlikely the 35-year-old woman would have gone snorkeling in the first place. Her mother did not immediately return a message Thursday.
At the end of the interview, Giordano asserted that cocaine and human trafficking were Aruba's "two main sources of income," although he did not explicitly suggest that either had anything to do with Gardner's disappearance. He also noted that Venezuela is a 30-minute boat ride away from the beach where he and Gardner went snorkeling.
Stein was perplexed by Giordano's comments.
"There has been no mention of drugs in this case," Stein said. "It's rather odd for Mr. Giordano to mention this because it contradicts his statements. He said they went snorkeling and the weather got rough and she didn't come out of the water. Did he see a boat? He contradicts himself that way."
Giordano spoke alongside his attorney, Jose Baez, who won an acquittal earlier this year for Florida mother Casey Anthony, who was accused of killing her daughter. Baez was critical of Giordano's former attorney, Michael Lopez, saying that Lopez gave his client bad legal advice and was driven by greed.
In a statement, Lopez said Baez's comments "are not based on reality."
Giordano's sons ' Jason, 19, and twins Tyler and Joshua, 14 ' stood behind him during the interview. After he found out Wednesday that the prosecutors' appeal was denied, he told ABC News that he never expected to be freed.
"I'd accepted the fact that they were gonna keep me from my kids forever," Giordano said.
Associated Press writer Ben Fox in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.___Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at http://twitter.com/APBenNuckols .