15 Apr 2009

Two years after winning Europe's biggest weekly lottery prize, a Portuguese couple are still waiting to get their hands on the €15m (£13.3m) prize, which remains locked away in a frozen bank account.

Cristina Simoes, 20, and Luis Ribeiro, 23, were lovers who planned to study hard and leave behind the harsh rural life of their parents in the Portuguese countryside near the northern town of Barcelos. Friends expected them to marry.

Then they won the EuroMillions prize. They had played the pan-European lottery together every Friday, but that week Cristina called her boyfriend to buy an extra ticket when he placed their normal bet of €4. That was the ticket that won. Cristina says that she paid Luis back the €2 for it. Cristina and Luis picked up the prize cheque, and opened a joint bank account partly controlled by her parents. That was in January 2007. Now the couple only see each other in court, and a judge has frozen the prize money account. The couple broke up after Cristina's parents refused Luis permission to withdraw money. He challenged them in court and Cristina now says she wants all the money.

"I'm not desperate about this," Luis told a newspaper. "But I'll follow it through to the end. She didn't want to give me a cent of it." Cristina says Luis lied to her, claiming he was at college when he had secretly travelled to Lisbon to see the bank manager. Luis's lawyers say he is quite happy to divide the prize in half. Luis still gets up at 6am to milk the cows before going to college, while Cristina studies to become a pharmacist and lives behind bolted doors in her parents' house - convinced someone is going to kidnap her. Attempts to reach agreement broke down last month when Cristina failed to appear in court. Now the judges must decide.

SOURCE: The Guardian


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