SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgarian prosecutors pressed preliminary charges Thursday against a Roma woman who may be the mother of a girl found living with an unrelated couple in Greece. Though DNA tests have yet to prove she is that girl’s mother, the woman’s admission that she once left a baby behind in Greece opened her up to a formal investigation.
Sasha Ruseva, 35, acknowledged to Bulgarian TV that she had been questioned about the girl in Greece known as “Maria,” who is believed to be 5-6 years old. The girl’s case has gained global notice and drawn what some say is unfair attention to the Roma, who have long faced racism, poverty and some of whom have resorted to crime.
Ruseva said that if DNA proves she’s the girl’s mother, she’ll take her back. But she denied taking any money for giving up her baby to another Roma, or Gypsy, family, years ago. The preliminary charges filed against her allow authorities to start an investigation into if she is telling the truth about whether money exchanged hands.
Greek authorities took custody of “Maria” after finding her while raiding a Roma camp for illegal weapons and drugs. The child stood out to police and others on the scene because she was blond and fair-skinned — and looked nothing like the couple who claimed to be her parents.
After a DNA test proved she wasn’t theirs, an international search was then launched to find the child’s real parents, while the couple she had been living with were arrested. The search apparently led to central Bulgaria, where police tracked down Ruseva in the town of Nikolaevo.
Ruseva said that she gave birth to a girl while working in Greece “several years ago,” but that she had to leave the child because she didn’t have enough money to take her home. Ruseva has had eight children.
“I intended to go back and take my child home, but meanwhile I gave birth to two more kids so I was not able to go back,” said Ruseva, who insisted that she did not get paid for giving up the girl.
Though Ruseva herself is dark-haired and dark-skinned, as she spoke to the TV channel, she held a young girl in her arms who looked quite similar to the girl in Greece.
Bulgarian Interior Ministry chief secretary Svetlozar Lazarov confirmed that his office was working on the case with Greek police.
Lazarov said that during Thursday’s questioning Ruseva said she had recognized the Greek Roma couple in the “Maria” case, whose pictures have been broadcast on TV, as the same people with whom she left her child while working in Greece.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, announce they had pressed preliminary charges against Ruseva for “deliberately selling a child while residing out of the country.”
“A DNA test has been taken from Ruseva, and information has been collected about her trips to Greece in the last years,” said a statement from the prosecutor’s office.
The “Maria” case has spurred concerns about child trafficking within the Roma community, and cries of racism as well.
In Ireland this past week, in an episode apparently inspired by the Greek case, two young blond, blue-eyed children were taken by Irish police from their Romanian Gypsy parents, who had different complexions. But the girl and boy were returned Wednesday to their families after DNA tests determined the children were rightfully theirs.