An Italian judge issued an international arrest warrant for kidnapping against Eitan Biran’s grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, Italian media reported Wednesday, a day before an Israeli court was set to discuss an appeal by the Peleg family to keep the boy in Israel.
Six-year-old Biran is the sole survivor of a cable car crash in northern Italy in May.
The crash caused the deaths of 14 people, including Eitan’s father, Amit Biran, his mother, Tal Peleg, his one-year-old brother, Tom and his great-grandparents Barbara Cohen Konisky and Itshak Cohen.
After the tragedy, the boy’s custody was assigned to his paternal aunt Aya Biran, who lived nearby Eitan’s family in the city of Pavia, where Amit studied medicine.
In September, Peleg picked up the grandchild to spend a few hours with him as he did regularly according to the decision of Italian judges – who had issued visitation rights after the relations between the maternal and paternal families dramatically deteriorated over the dispute of the child’s custody.
Instead, Peleg drove Eitan to Switzerland where they boarded a private flight to Israel, although the judge had also ordered that the boy could not leave Italy without the permission of his aunt.
The daily Corriere della Sera reported that an international arrest warrant was also issued against another man, an Israeli citizen residing in Cyprus, who was in the car with Peleg during the trip.
According to the report, the man often traveled to Italy with Peleg, and tried to attend a hearing about Eitan’s custody in August, introducing himself as an Israeli lawyer but then failing to produce an official identification card.
“[Peleg] carried out a strategic and premeditated scheme that allowed him to bring the child to Israel with him,” prosecuting attorney Mario Venditti told the Corriere in an interview. “The accurate investigation conducted by the Pavia’s police clearly shows that everything was planned ahead in detail starting from the moment when Peleg understood that he would not be able to obtain the grandchild’s custody.”
Magistrates in Pavia have asked for the two men to be extradited to Italy once they are arrested.
Peleg's lawyer in Italy told Reuters he had already filed an appeal against the warrant.
The Italian justice ministry said Israel was unlikely to send the suspects to Italy due to a reservation it had made to the Paris European Convention on Extradition of 1957, according to which Israel does not extradite its own nationals.
In the meantime, however, Eitan’s custody continues to be at the center of a legal battle both in Italy and in Israel.
Last month, the Tel Aviv Family Court ordered that Eitan needs to be sent back to Italy to live with his aunt Aya pending a different possible ruling by the Italian courts. Following the decision, the Pelegs filed the appeal and at the moment the child is still in Israel. The hearing on Thursday will determine the next steps.
According to the Italian daily La Stampa, Pavia’s court held a hearing about Eitan’s custody on Tuesday but no decision was issued.
However, most legal experts concur that the chances for Shmuel Peleg to obtain the custody were already slim – Eitan has been living in Italy since he was one month old and Aya, a doctor and a mother of two girls around his age, was considered the natural guardian – and after he took the child illegally they got even slimmer.
Yonah Jeremy Bob and Reuters contributed to this report.