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Snatched toddler returns to France with father PDF Print E-mail
(0 Votes)
Written by Lizzy Davies   
  • Child stopped in Hungary with Russian mother
  • Cross-border parental abductions increasing

Jean-Michel André holds his daughter, Elise, while waiting to board a plane at Budapest

Jean-Michel André holds his daughter, Elise, while waiting to board a plane at Budapest. Photograph: Ferenc Isza/AFP/Getty Images

The three-year-old daughter of bitterly feuding parents returned to France with her father yesterday in the latest twist to a custody battle in which she has been abducted and whisked across international borders three times.

In a homecoming that may end two years of vicious family wrangling, Elise André-Belenkaya arrived at Lyon airport in the arms of Jean-Michel André, her French father.

 

He had rushed to Hungary on Sunday after border police arrested Irina Belenkaya, his former wife, who was trying to enter Ukraine with their daughter. The Russian woman is accused of arranging the kidnapping of the child from Arles, southern France, on 20 March. Belenkaya will face a hearing today on whether she will be extradited to France.

Speaking yesterday, her lawyer described the abduction as "an act of desperation". "[She] is suffering," said Catherine Dejean. "[André] is not alone in suffering nor in loving his daughter."

In signs that the highly personal case is likely to raise political tensions between Paris and Moscow, Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, yesterday criticised Hungary for allowing André to take Elise back to France with him. "We believe the decision ... to return the girl to the French authorities was premature," he said.

Moscow has suggested a team of legal experts from Russia and France work together to find a resolution to the battle, which is made especially difficult by the fact that each parent has been granted legal custody in their own country.

"We are dealing with a case which is legally complex, the courts of both countries having given radically different judgments on the same question," Lavrov was quoted as saying.

Campaigners for a more co-ordinated global policy on custody rights say this case crystallises the growing problem of cross-border parental abduction, and the legal limbo such cases often enter.

Since her parents' divorce in 2007, Elise has been kidnapped by one of her parents no fewer than three times. Belenkaya took her from Arles to Moscow in autumn 2007 despite a ruling from a French court that gave André custody. He then kidnapped Elise from a Moscow street in September 2008 after distracting her childminder with a bunch of flowers. In the meantime, according to Belenkaya, a Russian court had granted her custody.

But the most dramatic abduction occurred last month, when Belenkaya allegedly hired two men to beat up André and run off with their daughter. Immediately after the attack, he claimed to have recognised his former wife disguised in a wig looking on as Elise was taken.

Russia has insisted it will not let Belenkaya be extradited to France, where she faces up to seven years in jail if found guilty of kidnapping. But Hungarian officials have indicated they are likely to comply with the requests of Paris, and she may even be transferred today.

Elise's case, just one of about 50 currently under consideration by France and Russia, is made more problematic because Moscow has not signed the 1980 Hague convention on civil aspects of child abduction, the mechanism by which most such cases are resolved.

 



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