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14 Apr, 2009 11:07

Mother of kidnapped girl faces jail

The mother of Elise André, the three-year-old girl with dual French-Russian nationality who has been kidnapped multiple times, awaits trial on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Elise is already in Paris with her French father.

Irina Belenkaya, who has been held in a single custody suite since the early hours of Monday, will learn her fate at 17:30 GMT, April 15. The trial will be held behind closed doors and Russia’s consul to Hungary, Aleksander Gusev, will be present at the procedure. He has already met with Irina Belenkaya.

The trial was to be held on Tuesday in a court of Budapest, Hungary, but was postponed until Wednesday.

“Decision to hand Elisa Andre to father premature” – Russian FM

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that talks should be held to determine the fate of Elisa.

“We are facing a downright law conflict: two courts in two different countries have made contradicting rulings. In the nearest future we will suggest talks to be held between Russian and French lawyers. Hopefully the French side will react in a constructive fashion,” Lavrov said talking at a news conference.

The French Foreign Ministry says France intends to cooperate closely with the Russian authorities on the issue:

“Our priority is to find a solution most suitable for the child’s interest by keeping a close contact with the Russian authorities and the parents”, said Romain Nadal, a representative for the French ministry.

He also said that Paris would like to set up a joint working group that would deal with complex issues such as those regarding parental rights as in Elise’s case.

The head of Russian Public Chamber’s working group for human rights of Russian citizens abroad, Andrey Sokolov, is due to come to Paris on Wednesday for negotiations on the Elise’s case.

“The situation is rather difficult. A Russian court ruled that child stays with the mother. At the same time the French law is on the father’s side”, said Andrey Sokolov.

Such situations are quite typical for transnational marriages, added Sokolov, but reassured that the working group is going to sort out this case and help the child and the mother as much as possible.

Another working group’s member says the actions of Hungarian authorities should be analyzed, particularly why they reacted to the French request and ignored Russian law.

The Public Chamber is set to have a meeting on the Elise's case on Wednesday.

Three-year-old tug of war

Three-year-old Elise, or Liza, was kidnapped on March 20 from her French father Jean-Michel André on their way back from kindergarten. Her father was severely beaten by three men.

André claimed Liza’s Russian mother Irina Belenkaya was involved in the kidnapping.

On April 13, Belenkaya was detained in Hungary while attempting to cross the border to Ukraine with Liza, who was handed over to her father. A French reporter, escorting Jean-Michel André with Elise on their way back to Paris, said Andre refused to comment his family’s crisis.

Irina was very upset when she got the news about handing Liza back to her ex-husband, said a spokesperson for the Russian embassy in Budapest, Irina Zvonova.

The March 2009 incident wasn’t the first kidnapping in Liza’s young life. In 2008, a year after her parents’ divorce, the girl was snatched from her nanny in Moscow, where Liza had been taken to by her mother from France a year earlier. The father was allegedly behind the kidnapping, but the official investigation continues.

There is a way out – experts

Many analysts say the best way out of this situation is negotiating on both the family and international level.

“In every situation there is a way out and, in the case of Andre and Belenkaya and their little Liza, I think we will manage to find a common solution. Well at least we will make everything possible for them to make an agreement. They can have different views, but they must remember that they have a child”, says Public Chamber member and lawyer Anatoly Kucherena.

But human rights activist Boris Altshuler says that the mother is likely to face a prison term in France.

“For an EU member, Hungary, the decision of a French court is more important than the decision of a court in Russia… the mother will go to jail for the kidnapping of the child, violating the decision of the court, and perhaps, organizing violence against her ex-husband”, Boris Altshuler said.

French authorities are now working on a draft law, which will impose more restrictions on taking children away from France, reports French Le Parisien newspaper. This, they hope, will reduce the number of controversial cases of children being taken away by one of their parents.