What happened to Xing Li, the 38-year-old who lived in Dublin before mysteriously vanishing into thin air while on a Mediterranean cruise in February 2017?
On Thursday, while her husband Daniel Belling is on trial for allegedly killing her and dumping her body in the sea, the court of jury in Italy will attempt to answer that question.
Mr. Belling says his wife is alive and likely lives in China as she planned her disappearance before her family vacation.
However, Italian prosecutors claim he killed her and thrown her overboard after a series of rows. Next week’s trial is the start of a process that can take up to three years. It revolves around a mystery that has never been solved: Where did Xing Li go?
Jorge Reyes pulled back the ring on his ice cold beer can and straightened.
He sat on the deck of his cabin on the MSC Magnifica with a pail of beer at his feet, waiting to see if the man, a German passenger on the cruise, would appear before the ship left.
“I said to my wife: ‘I’ll line up here and see if this German can make it back on board the boat,'” he said Irish independent last week.
“I was convinced that he wouldn’t make it … and then he literally shows up with his two children for minutes.”
Jorge and Malena Reyes, like many passengers on the luxury cruise, had previously decided to explore the area around the port of Heraklion in Greece, the last stop on the trip.
After spending a couple of hours around town, they made their way back to the terminal, knowing that the ship was about to set sail. As they joined the swarm of passengers making the same return trip, Mr. Reyes noticed the German walking in the opposite direction with his two children.
“I remember exactly how everyone went to the terminal to get to the ship, and here’s this guy going the other way,” he said.
“He was walking the two children and had hand luggage that made a lot of noise as he dragged it down the narrow cobbled street. I said to Malena, ‘What is this crazy guy doing now? Everyone goes back to the ship and he goes to the small town. “
The man who carried the suitcase, the German-born IT employee Daniel Belling, had become a fascination for Mr. Reyes and his wife while on vacation. Even then, long before they learned that Mr. Belling had been arrested on suspicion of killing his wife, they were curious about him.
After all, her performance had made a lasting impression on Mr Belling and his wife.
Mr and Mrs Reyes had just got off the train in the Italian port of Civitavecchia when they saw the couple. The man, a tall, fair-skinned man with a clear German accent, was walking behind two young children. The woman they assumed was his wife stood behind him.
“The woman screamed and yelled at the man,” Malena recalled. “He didn’t say anything, just walked over to the ship and was quiet.”
Ms. Reyes and her husband were about to embark on their 11th cruise.
Mr. Belling and China-born Xing Li were also on the cruise with their then four and five-year-old children.
“He (Mr Belling) was just one of those people we saw over and over again on the cruise,” said Mr Reyes.
“However, we never saw her on the ship, not once. My wife always said to me: ‘He takes the children with him all the time and lets them rest’. ”
The cruise started on February 9, 2017 in Civitavecchia, north of Rome, and brought them to Malta, Greece and Cyprus. When the liner arrived in Civitavecchia on Monday 20th February, Mr Belling’s wife was nowhere to be found. The fact that his wife, who had taken the English name Angie, was missing, he is said not to have informed the ship’s crew, which aroused the suspicion of the Italian police.
Mr. Belling worked as an IT consultant in Ireland, where Apple was one of his clients. The last time Xing Li was seen alive was in Genoa on February 10, just the day after the cruise, when the family went to a gift shop.
“The day after we saw them arguing what a day at sea was, we saw him alone with the kids in the swimming pool,” Malena said. “The oldest child was very happy and playful. The little one always cried. The father paid him a lot of attention. He was very patient and never screamed. “
Cruise ship records show that Ms. Li returned aboard the MSC Magnifica after an excursion in Genoa, meaning that she disappeared between that point and the end of the cruise. The maritime authorities alerted the police, who eventually followed Mr Belling to Ciampino Airport in the direction of Dublin. He was arrested and remanded in custody in Regina Coeli prison in Rome.
Mr Belling says he last saw his wife when their ship docked on the Greek island of Katakolon. When he returned to the ship after an excursion with his sons, he claims she left with her suitcase and cell phone.
In March 2017, investigators believed they had achieved a breakthrough in the case when a suitcase containing the body of an Asian woman was found in the Adriatic Sea off the east coast of Italy. However, the body was not that of Xing Li.
Mr Belling was held in a cell by Italian police for 14 months before being released without charge in April 2018 – but prosecutors continued to investigate the case. After his release, Mr. Belling told reporters that he believed it was founded by his wife. He described her as a “cruel person” for allowing him to spend 14 months in prison for a crime, “she knows I didn’t commit it”.
“I think my wife is most likely in China,” he said. “There’s a small chance something happened to her in Greece, but I think she’s in China. For the first few weeks I was worried about my wife, but not anymore. I think she knows I’m imprisoned. “
After briefly returning to Ireland, Mr Belling returned to his home country to be with his family.
Then, last year, Italian authorities announced that he would be charged with killing his wife on the ship and dumping her body in the sea in 2017.
Last week, Mr Belling’s Italian lawyer, Luigi Conti, said the Irish independent the process will begin on Thursday and on the first day of the hearing there will be “the approval of the respective witnesses”.
On behalf of his client, he presented the defense witness list, which included “friends and members of Mr Belling’s family”.
Mr Belling has repeatedly denied killing his wife. According to his lawyer, a number of anomalies open the door to the possibility that Xing Li is still alive. “Someone changed the lock on the door of their house during the months that Mr Belling was in prison,” he said.
“It wasn’t the Irish authorities or the bank. Nor was it any of the couple’s relatives. Who was it?”
Another obvious curiosity that Mr. Conti identified is that between April and May 2017, someone used Xing Li’s credit card to pay the M50 toll. The attorney also claims he has evidence that the mother of two said she was “fed up with life in Dublin and wanted to return to China”.
“Interviews that Xing Li had with psychologists and doctors in Ireland before they ever went on the cruise prove that she intended to leave Daniel.
“In the statements I have copies of, she says in her own words: ‘My life in Ireland is like a prison. I want to go back to China and leave the children with Daniel. “
Mr Conti also claims to have messages showing that she had a secret lover. The messages, some of which are from November 2016, were sent from their mobile device to someone else with an Irish mobile number.
“I find it surprising that the Italian authorities never looked for Xing Li,” he said.
“They assumed she was dead and never investigated the possibility that she was still alive. I think that was a mistake. “