Following more than three months in Israel, where he was taken by his grandfather, igniting an international custody battle, a 6-year-old boy who was the sole survivor of an Italian cable car crash returned to his home country on Friday, nearly three months after he was taken there by his grandfather.
It has been months since the youngster, Eitan Biran, survived a devastating cable car tragedy in May that claimed the lives of 14 people, including his parents. His repatriation to Italy brings to an end a months-long legal battle in Israel over the boy’s guardianship, which will now proceed in Italian courts.
He returned to the United States late Friday night on a trip to Milan, Italy, where he would be returned to the care of his aunt.
Italian officials are investigating abduction charges against the boy’s Israeli grandparents as well as an Israeli man who has been identified as a former agent for the security firm Blackwater Worldwide. The men are suspected of abducting the youngster in “a strategic and preplanned operation,” according to an arrest warrant issued in Italian court.
In September, Eitan’s grandpa, Shmuel Peleg, picked him up from the residence of his aunt, Aya Biran, in Italy, for what was intended to be a toy-shopping trip to the United Kingdom.
Rather of returning Eitan to his family in time for supper as promised, his grandpa instead drove him over the border to Switzerland and then flew him to Israel on a private jet.
Four of Blackwater Worldwide’s guards murdered 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007, and the business was later sold and rebranded. It became a symbol for the excesses of American military contractors when it was purchased by private equity firm Blackstone Group.
Mr. Peleg was called for interrogation by the Israeli police prior to the issuance of the arrest order, and he was later freed on bail. The arrest and subsequent release of Mr. Abutbul-Alon occurred in Cyprus last month.
Following Eitan’s reported abduction, the tragedy escalated into an international custody fight that garnered worldwide attention, with family in Italy and Israel each claiming to be looking out for Eitan’s best interests, and civil and criminal lawsuits being litigated in both countries.
On a lovely weekend day in May, the boy’s parents, 2-year-old brother, and two great-grandparents were killed when a cable broke on a gondola they were travelling up Mottarone mountain.
She lives in a tiny village near Pavia, in northern Italy, with her brother, Eitan’s father, who is an Israeli who studied medicine in Italy at the time of Eitan’s birth. Eitan had been living with his parents in a neighbouring town since he was two months old, and they had raised him as their own.
Those concerns, however, were not addressed in the Israeli family court, which focused only on whether Mr. Peleg’s abduction of the kid and subsequent return to Israel violated the terms of the Hague Convention on the International Abduction of Minors.
In October, the court concluded that this was the case and ordered that Eitan be sent to Italy as a result. Mr. Peleg filed an appeal with the District Court, which affirmed the verdict of the lower court. The lawsuit was dismissed by Israel’s Supreme Court last month, paving the way for Eitan’s trip to the United States on Friday.
It seems that preparation for the kidnapping started in July, some months before Mr. Peleg’s journey to Israel with the youngster was scheduled to leave the country. According to the warrant, this marked the beginning of “strategic preparation on the part of Shmuel Peleg in cooperation with Gabriel Abutbul-Alon,” which would culminate in the kidnapping of Peleg’s daughter.
“We are pleased that an Israeli court has established the notion of zero tolerance for kidnappings of children,” said Shmuel Moran, a lawyer representing Ms. Biran. “We hope that this will serve as a model for other countries.”