German authorities say a claim of rape by a 13-year-old girl from a Russian immigrant family in Berlin that had caused tensions between Russia and Germany was fabricated.
The girl, who disappeared on January 11 before reappearing the next day, had told police she was kidnapped and raped by what her family said were Middle East migrants.
"It was clear to us from the start that the rape story, as she recounted it to us, could not have been true," Martin Steltner, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office in Berlin, told RFE/RL.
Steltner said data from the girl's mobile phone showed she had spent the night of her disappearance at the home of a 19-year-old male friend, in an apparent attempt to avoid conflict with her parents over what Steltner described as "school problems."
"We questioned him. We also found some of her belongings there," he said.
Prosecutors found no evidence of sexual crimes.
No charges were lodged against the man, who is now acting as a witness in the ongoing investigation.
The case has added to tension between Germany and Russia, whose ties have been strained by Moscow's takeover of Crimea in 2014 and its support for separatists in a war in eastern Ukraine.
It triggered widespread outrage in Russia after the country's most watched television network, state-run Channel One, gave the rape allegation prominent place in a January 16 report by its Berlin correspondent, Ivan Blagoy.
Blagoy's report quoted the girl's relatives as saying that police had refused to launch criminal proceedings in an attempt to cover up the case, and had pressured the girl to say the sex was consensual.
One of the alleged assailants "barely spoke German," Blagoy quoted the girl's aunt as saying.
The case came to light weeks after authorities in another German city, Cologne, were criticized for what was widely seen as a slow response to a spate of sexual assaults and robberies of women allegedly carried out by Middle Eastern and North African men on New Year's Eve.
In the aftermath of Blagoy's report, Russian immigrant communities in Berlin and other German cities organized rallies to voice their anger. On January 23, some 700 people protested in front of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's office, holding banners that read "Our children are in danger" and "Today my child, tomorrow yours."
The Russian government also began to press the German authorities on the case as the investigation continued.
At a high-profile annual press conference on January 26, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that "the girl certainly did not voluntarily disappear for 30 hours" and called for "truth and justice."
He said he hoped the German authorities would not "attempt to cover up the reality for some domestic, politically correct reason."
His comments prompted German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman to warn Moscow not to politicize the case. Lavrov responded by urging the German authorities to disclose all the details of its investigation into the girl's claims.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on January 29 that confusion about the case could have been avoided if German authorities had been more forthcoming about the investigation.
"I would like to say that the situation has been very complicated since the very beginning," Zakharova was quoted by state-run Russian news agency TASS as saying. "We learned about this situation not from our German colleagues, but thanks to the media."
She added that Lavrov and Steinmeier planned to discuss the matter in a telephone call on January 29.
In a short statement issued later in the day, the Russian Foreign Ministry did not indicate that the two men discussed the case during the call, which focused on Ukraine and Syria peace efforts.
Berlin's state interior minister, Frank Henkel, praised local authorities for what he called the professionalism with which they handled the investigation amid the media firestorm.
"The new developments clearly expose the propaganda that was linked to this case in the past few days," Henkel said in a January 29 statement.
Henkel added that Germany was a "state based on the rule of law" and that no "political pressure from abroad" would change its "constitutional principles."
Steltner of the Berlin prosecutor's office told RFE/RL earlier this week that two men were under investigation for possible past sexual contact with the girl, which under German law can be prosecuted as child abuse since she is under 14.
Steltner said neither man was a recent migrant; one is a German citizen and the other, a long-term resident, has a Turkish passport.
That investigation is ongoing, Steltner said on January 29.
With reporting by Claire Bigg, dpa, TASS, RIA Novosti, Focus.de, Interfax, AFP, and Reuters