French father ready to go to Russia to return kidnapped daughter

The father of Elise Andre, the 3-year-old girl abducted from France a week ago, says he’s ready to go to Russia to find his daughter. Jean-Michel Andre believes the kidnapping was organized by her Russian mother.

A week after three-year-old Liza was taken away from him, Jean-Michel Andre issued a desperate plea.

“Why cut her away from her father? Why punish both of us? She has the right to know and receive the love of both her parents. We have to find a solution. But for now, I just want to know that she’s ok and where she is,” he said.

Known as ‘Liza’ in Russia and ‘Elise’ in France, the girl was snatched from her father in the southern French city of Arles by two men and a woman. Jean-Michel Andre was badly beaten during the abduction. He claims the girl’s Russian mother, Irina Belenkaya, was involved.

French detectives have alerted police forces across Europe to track down mother and daughter.

Jean-Michel Andre says he’s received messages from his former wife’s e-mail address saying she's in Russia.

But even if Irina Belenkaya is there, the chances of arresting her or returning Liza to France are slim. Liza's mother was granted parental custody through a Russian court, and under Russian law, a close relative cannot be a kidnapper.

“Russia will fully co-operate with the investigation, but it will never send the girl back to France. The same applies to the mother – even if she is proved to have organized the kidnapping, according to the Russian constitution she will never be extradited,” said Vladimir Ovchinsky, Head of the Russian Interpol Bureau from 1997-1999.

The estranged couple have been fighting over the custody of Liza for the past two years, with courts in Russia and France having made contradictory rulings.

“When she’s in France with her father, French law applies, but if she’s in Russia with her mother, French laws will have no effect on our rulings,” said Oleg Elnikov, Russia’s Interior Ministry spokesperson.

Jean-Michel Andre says he’s ready to go to Russia to find his daughter. And it wouldn’t be the first time. In 2008, he snatched the girl from her nanny in Moscow, where Liza had been taken by her mother from France a year earlier. Irina Belenkaya campaigned for her daughter's return, going on Russian talk shows to plead her case.

A Russian court issued a warrant for Jean-Michel Andre’s arrest back then. So if he does decide to go to Moscow this time, instead of getting nearer to custody of his daughter he might end up in custody himself. But until Liza’s parents come to some kind of agreement, she'll remain the ultimate victim of their bitter dispute.