The French father of a 3-year-old girl kidnapped in France last Friday said he was ready to conclude an amicable settlement agreement with his ex-wife if the Russian court allowed him to see his daughter.
When asked during a TV link-up between Moscow and Paris held by RIA Novosti if he was ready to strike a deal, Jean-Michel Andre said: “Yes, of course, it goes without saying. I answer ‘yes.'”
Elise, who has Russian and French citizenship, was snatched from her father in Arles, in southern France, on March 20 by three unknown attackers, one of whom Andre believed to be his former wife, Irina Belenkaya. He was severely beaten in the attack.
Belenkaya was subsequently charged with arranging the attack to abduct her daughter, and is now on an Interpol wanted list. If arrested outside Russia, Belenkaya could face up to three years in prison. However, under Russian law, the woman cannot be extradited.
The French father received messages from Belenkaya’s email address on Wednesday saying she was in Russia. However, investigators believe they could have been sent by one of Belenkaya’s friends or relatives in an attempt to throw them off the scent.
“Maybe she did not write this letter but she is behind this message. She scolds me and says ‘forget about your daughter,'” Andre told journalists, adding that he had no idea why Elise’s mother had decided to punish “both daughter and father.”
Andre said he was unsure whether Elise was in Russia and was waiting for official notification from the Russian authorities, who “must inform him about his daughter’s appearance on Russian territory.”
The desperate father also told journalists his daughter was told her real father was someone named Slava. He added that he would pay for Elise’s education in French and for everything necessary to video-chat with his daughter via the Internet.
The estranged couple has been embroiled in a “tug-of-war” for custody of their daughter for two years, with Russian and French courts siding with their nationals in the dispute.
Andre was awarded custody by French courts following the couple’s divorce in 2007. After his wife left the country taking her daughter with her, a warrant for her arrest was issued by a French court in 2008.
Belenkaya was subsequently awarded custody of Elise by a Russian court in 2008.
Andre hired private detectives to trace his wife and child. He learned Russian and traveled to Moscow to secretly take his daughter back to France. After the kidnapping, a Russian court issued a warrant for Andre’s arrest.
Andre also commented Friday that he was able to understand his wife’s actions.
“I understand the feelings of my wife,” he said.
He also reiterated that Elise’s mother could have been involved in the kidnapping, adding that, “What I don’t understand is that her desire to punish me was so strong that she decided to deprive our daughter of the opportunity to see her father,” he said.
Andre said that Elise could “grow up and keep living between Russia and France, in turn, with both parents.”
He also urged his ex-wife to think of what was best for their daughter.