x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Accused kidnap mum confident she and toddler will stay in Dubai

Leslie Delbecq, a Belgian-American, and her parents have been indicted in US federal court on charges of international parental kidnapping.

ABU DHABI //A family accused of kidnapping a toddler from the US and hiding her in the UAE are confident they will be exonerated and the child will be able to stay.

Leslie Delbecq, a Belgian-American living in Dubai, and her parents Philippe Delbecq and Jeanine De Riddere have been indicted in a US federal court on charges of international parental kidnapping.

The three are accused of taking Ms Delbecq's two-year-old daughter from her father in Florida in violation of US law.

The family are wanted by Interpol in connection with the kidnapping.

The child's father, Christopher Dahm, last August had word from US authorities that the three had been apprehended trying to fly from Abu Dhabi International Airport.

The Delbecqs and their lawyers from the Dubai firm Al Rowaad Advocates deny being at the airport.

Mr Delbecq said the three surrendered their passports and the child's to help clear their names.

"We voluntarily turned ourselves in to Abu Dhabi Police," he said. "We want to say, 'We are here. We are not hiding from the police'."

The UAE has launched an investigation, and Ms Delbecq said this week she believed local courts would clear her of any wrongdoing.

"The judge in charge of my criminal case has ruled in my favour," she said, declining to give the charges.

Ms Delbecq is wanted for taking her daughter from Florida in August last year, in violation of the joint custody agreement she had with her ex-husband, which included that the child not be taken out of the US.

Lawyers argue Ms Delbecq had help from her parents. The maximum penalty for international parental kidnapping in the US is three years in prison.

The child was born in the US but travelled on a Belgian passport.

Mr Dahm said he was told by the US attorney's office formal extradition requests for Ms Delbecq and her parents had been sent to the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

The UAE does not have an extradition treaty with the US and is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which outlines the procedure for returning children abducted and taken across international borders.

"I miss (her) so much," Mr Dahm said. "It's been one year since I've seen her. It's been by far the longest year of my life. I just want to bring back my little princess."

Mr Dahm and his lawyer, Doug Reynolds, said a UAE judge requested documents on the case from the US last month.

The US Embassy, the FBI and the US attorney's office declined to comment. Abu Dhabi Police and the Emirates CID also declined.

Mr Dahm has been awarded sole custody of his daughter in the US but Ms Delbecq said custody proceedings were continuing in the UAE.

If Ms Delbecq is awarded custody, she and the child can remain in the UAE. But if the Interpol warrants are not cleared, she will not be able to travel outside of the country.

Her parents have lived in Abu Dhabi for more than six years. Mr Delbecq said his daughter did what any mother would do to protect her child.

"She knew full well she was going to be in trouble," he said. "She knew she was sacrificing her life but she did it for her baby."

Mr Dahm and his attorney said they were not aware of any custody proceedings in UAE courts.

"We have no knowledge of any court cases in the UAE," Mr Reynolds said. "We have not been provided, in any form, with any information as to any alleged case in the UAE."

A motion to dismiss the indictment in the US for Mr Delbecq, who claims he was outside the country when the alleged kidnapping occurred, was denied.

Mr Reynolds said the next hearing in the federal case was scheduled for October 19.

Mr Dahm said he waited every day for the call telling him his daughter will be returned to him.

"Every little girl needs her father … (she) will be home soon, I know it," he said.


Father pleads for daughter's return

The father of the two-year-old girl has made an impassioned plea to UAE authorities to return his daughter.

“I trust that the Abu Dhabi judge will do the right thing by extraditing these people and give my daughter back to her father, where she belongs,” Christopher Dahm said.

“I miss my daughter very, very, very much. But I also hope that I can help others like me. If we get extradition, it will set precedents between our countries.

“If we can get (her) home as quickly and safely as possible, maybe we can help bring other children home to America.”

Gabrielle was brought to the Emirates by her mother, Leslie Delbecq, from the US last year in violation of a joint custody agreement.

US authorities have been active in working with UAE officials to follow the case closely.

“The US government is taking this very seriously,” said Doug Reynolds, Mr Dahm’s American attorney. “We can’t just have people decide to leave if they don’t get the outcome they want in court.”

Ms Delbecq’s lawyer said an investigation and criminal case in the UAE concerning the kidnapping charges were both continuing.

“We believe our client will be able to get out of this trouble within a few months,” said Hassan Elhais, a senior partner at Al Rowaad Advocates in Dubai.