ORANJESTAD, Aruba – Aruba's chief government spokesman said Friday that three young men detained in the disappearance of an Alabama teenager have not been formally charged but could be as soon as Monday.
Earlier, Aruba's attorney general, Karin Janssen (search), told The Associated Press that the young men had been charged with murder since their arrest three weeks ago.
"The three have been charged with the murder of Natalee Holloway (search) from the beginning" of their arrest 10 days after the young woman went missing May 30, she said in a recorded interview. "At the time, we didn't want to upset the family talking about murder while they searched."
The attorney general and other Aruban officials have said for weeks that no one has been charged in the 18-year-old's disappearance. Janssen said authorities also withheld information about the charges in order not to compromise their investigation. Authorities have said they have no physical evidence suggesting Holloway is dead.
The government spokesman, Ruben Trapenberg, contacted the AP following the English-language interview with Janssen.
"This is a question of semantics. It's been a problem since day one," Trapenberg said. "The charging is a formal process that happens later on. It could happen as soon as Monday."
Return calls to Janssen were not immediately returned.
Trapenberg did not clarify what charges could be filed against the three. They had been scheduled to go before a judge Monday to learn whether their detentions would be extended another 60 days. Under Dutch law that governs Aruba (search), a protectorate of the Netherlands, detainees can be held 116 days before being charged by a judge.
Janssen said 17-year-old Joran van der Sloot (search) and two Surinamese brothers who are his friends have been charged since their arrest June 9 — 10 days after Holloway disappeared.
All court hearings in the case have been closed to the public.
Police have been criticized for letting more than a week go by without detaining the three young men last seen with Holloway and for waiting 16 days after she went missing before searching van der Sloot's home.
"The stupidest thing to do is run and arrest them because an hour later they will go free and you have nothing," Janssen told the AP.
When asked if the young men would have had time to destroy evidence, Janssen acknowledged the possibility but said "it didn't happen in this case."
She said the prosecution was centering its case around e-mail and cell phone text messages written between the suspects the night Holloway disappeared. Janssen declined to offer further details about the messages, but said not having a body would make getting a murder conviction "more difficult but not impossible."
Asked why two of three suspects were transported together, apparently giving them the opportunity to compare or arrange their stories, Trapenberg said in a separate interview that was done to secretly monitor what they might tell each other.
"One of the techniques is that after hearing separate stories and getting nowhere, prosecutors will have suspects confront each other," said Trapenberg. "The U.S. system might be different, but this technique has worked in the past here."
Janssen offered a similar explanation.
Deepak Kalpoe, 21, and Satish Kalpoe, 18, and van der Sloot were the last ones seen with Holloway the night she disappeared. Two other people — van der Sloot's father, Paul, a high-ranking island judicial official — were detained and released.