LONDON — The lawyer of British model Chloe Ayling, who was allegedly kidnapped and detained for six days in Italy while her captors attempted to sell her in an online auction, has refuted suggestions that his client acted as an “accomplice.”
Ayling says she was attacked in Milan in July while attending a photo shoot. She said she was drugged, placed in a bag, and transported to a cabin in a remote town close to the Italian Alps.
But Ayling admitted to Italian police that she went shopping with her suspected kidnapper and had breakfast with him on the morning she was freed, raising questions about whether she was held against her will.
Francesco Pesce, who is representing the 20-year-old mother of one, says Ayling went along with her captor’s wishes to “avoid conflict.”
Pesce said Ayling was “following blindly” after being warned by her captor that she was being watched by members of a criminal gang, and that she would be killed if she attempted to escape.
“In a state like that, she was terrified, it’s a 20-year-old woman, in an unknown country. If your captor tells you something, you believe it,” Pesce told CNN.
“She went along with what he asked her to do, look at shoes and buy groceries. This doesn’t make her an accomplice. She decided to go along with it to avoid any kind of conflict, followed him blindly, went into the shoe shop.
“This doesn’t mean she was in any way involved. You just go along with it hoping every minute that your liberation will be real. It may be a strange thing, but this doubt has been overruled by prosecutors, she has convinced the judge.
“She was told she was going to be sold to somebody in the Middle East for sex, she was terrified.”
Lukasz Herba, a 30-year-old Polish national who resides in the United Kingdom, was arrested on kidnapping charges after he dropped Ayling off outside the British consulate building in Milan on July 17, police said.
On Tuesday, Lorenzo Bucossi, head of the Milan Police Mobile Command unit, told CNN “at this point there is no proof of any collusion.”
Pair had breakfast at restaurant before model’s release
According to police, Ayling arrived in Milan on July 10 after agreeing to take part in a photo shoot which had been arranged through her agent for the following day.
Police said that she was then attacked on July 11 by two men after arriving at the apartment where the photo shoot was supposed to take place.
She was taken to a cabin on the outskirts of Lemie, a remote town in the Italian Alps, where she was kept handcuffed to a wooden chest of drawers in a bedroom for a week, police said.
The suspect allegedly used encrypted accounts to ask the model’s agent for $300,000 to stop the online auction from going ahead, according to Italian police.
The suspect also allegedly told the agent that he was operating on behalf of “the Black Death group,” an organization involved in illegal trafficking on the dark web, a layer of the internet accessible only through anonymizing networks like Tor.
In Ayling’s statement to Italian police, provided to CNN by her lawyer, the model said she shared a bed with her captor at one point, though she insisted she was not sexually abused.
Ayling initially told police that Herba wouldn’t let her leave the house, but when pressed by authorities, she admitted she had gone with him to buy shoes because she felt he was the key to her freedom.
Ayling told police that her kidnapper said she was being released because she had a young child, and that such an abduction contravened the group’s rules.
Ayling said Herba took her to the British consulate at 7 a.m. on the day she was released, but the building was still closed. So the pair left to have breakfast at a local restaurant before returning at 9:20 a.m. Herba was arrested shortly after.
Italian investigators have since established that the suspect had already organized several online auctions for the sale of kidnapped girls, referring to them as “prey.”
The websites for the auctions included a description of the victim and a starting price but police said it was still unclear whether the suspect had made them up.
Authorities said they are searching for at least one more person in connection with the kidnapping.
Ayling told the Telegraph she feared for her life after returning to her London home, and said “I am incredibly grateful to the Italian and UK authorities for all they have done to secure my safe release.”
Investigations in the case are ongoing in Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom.