The Bulgarian Roma mother of Maria, a young blonde girl whose fate made headlines around the world when she was found in a Greek Roma camp, tearfully denied on Sunday that she had sold her daughter.
"I have not sold her! I have not... I gave her, I made a mistake. But I haven't taken any money," Sasha Ruseva, 35, told private television station TV7 in her first public appearance since DNA tests proved on Friday that she was Maria's biological mother.
"I want Maria back! I am her mother, how could I not want her. I do not care what they say. I want Maria back with me," she said through tears.
The four-year-old girl, with her blonde hair and green eyes, was wrongfully thought to be a Western European child abducted by a Roma couple she was found living with the family near the Greek town of Farsala.
Greek and Bulgarian police however tracked down her real parents to a Roma ghetto in the central Bulgarian town of Nikolaevo on Thursday and are now investigating the mother for allegedly selling the child in Greece in 2009.
Maria is currently in the care of Smile of the Child, an Athens-based charity.
"I gave birth to her in Lamia (in Greece). I raised her until she was seven months old. Then I had to return to Bulgaria to take care of my other children when my eldest daughter, who was caring for them, got married," Ruseva said on Sunday.
She said she could not bring the baby back with her as she did not have any documents.
"A young woman came to me and said: 'I do not have children. Give her to me. I'll take care of her just as you would. Come back to Greece to take her when you can'," Ruseva recalled.
"But I gave birth to two more children here and I could not go back. I did not have the money."
Ruseva and her mentally ill husband Atanas, 38, have another nine children, five of whom are also fair-skinned and blonde in contrast to their parents' dark complexions and brownish-black hair.
The family lives in a single-room ramshackle house and their daily menu consists of bread and potatoes, Ruseva said, adding that she had never been contacted by social workers.
"I am not a criminal," Ruseva pleaded, saying that she was now "scared" by the possibility of going to to jail.
If found guilty of selling her daughter, she risks a prison term of up to six years.