Russia cautious on French custody case

23rd March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Russian authorities warned they may give only limited assistance in the “tug-of-love” custody between a French father and Russian mother even though they have yet to receive a formal help request from France.

MOSCOW – Russian authorities warned Sunday they may give only limited assistance in the case of a three-year-old girl snatched from France in a battle for custody between her French father and Russian mother.

The comments came as France's embassy in Moscow moved to quash claims that the girl, who was grabbed from her father by two men and a woman on Friday amid a trans-continental tug-of-war, had flown with her mother to Russia.

"The latest information is that they are not on Russian territory," a French diplomat said.

The disappearance, in which the father, Jean-Michel Andre, was beaten by his daughter's captors, prompted French authorities to alert police across Europe for signs of the girl, Elise, and her mother, Irina Belenkaya.

Russian media have noted it is the latest in a series of custody disputes between French men who have married Russian women, one of which was discussed by then presidents Vladimir Putin and Jacques Chirac in 2000.

But Russia's interior ministry stressed the case might be viewed differently by Russia, where a court has awarded Belenkaya custody rights.

"If we get an official request from our French colleagues, we will take all steps necessary to find the girl.... But there can't be any talk of detaining the child's mother," Yelnikov said, quoted by Interfax.

"A child can't be considered kidnapped if it's by the parent and there's no use of violence or involvement by other persons," he added.

Andre, who appeared on French television covered in bruises and with one eye half-closed, said two unidentified men beat him before snatching his daughter as he collected her from school in the southern city of Arles.

In an interview with AFP, he said he was "certain" the third person in the team – a woman dressed in black and wearing a wig – was his estranged wife.

Andre himself snatched the girl from a street in Moscow last year after the mother took the daughter to Russia from him against his will and in defiance of a French court ruling.

Earlier on Saturday, French police said the suspected kidnappers and the girl had boarded a plane bound for Moscow from Switzerland.

But the father said he had been shown the documents of the travellers thought to be the kidnappers and his daughter and they did not match.

Russian police said they had as yet received no formal request for help from France.

In an interview with AFP, Andre said he had managed to take Elise out of Russia in 2008 after she was taken there by her mother and vowed he was ready to do so again, even though he is subject to a Russian arrest warrant.

"I will go to Moscow. I will bring her back... She is my daughter," said Andre.

"If I enter Russia now it would be suicide. You saw what happened to me yesterday," he said. "I have to enter under a false name with a false passport," he told AFP in the interview.

While there was no sign of Belenkaya in Moscow, she too has not been shy of putting her side of the story before the public.

In an appearance on a Russian television chat-show after she lost her daughter last year, she said: "Judging from the father's behaviour, it's completely clear that this man has a maniacal attachment to the child that has absolutely nothing to do with a father's love for his child but with other feelings."

AFP / Expatica

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