The maternal grandmother of a six-year-old boy who was the sole survivor of a cable car crash in northern Italy is being investigated over the alleged abduction of the child after he was flown to Israel at the weekend against the wishes of his paternal relatives in Italy, according to local press.
Eitan Biran, whose parents and two-year-old brother died in the Stresa-Mottarone aerial tramway crash on 23 May, has been at the centre of a bitter custody battle between relatives in Italy and Israel.
Prosecutors in the northern Italian city of Pavia had already placed the child’s maternal grandfather under investigation for alleged abduction after he brought the child to Israel on Saturday.
According to reports in the Italian press, his maternal grandmother is also being investigated for helping her former husband to organise the alleged abduction, which reportedly involved the boy being taken across the border to Lugano in Switzerland before being flown by private plane to Tel Aviv.
“We know that there is a [legal] procedure for aggravated kidnapping and failure to comply with orders from the authority, but we have not been given the names of the suspects,” said Armando Simbari, a lawyer representing Eitan’s relatives in Italy, on Tuesday.
Israel’s Channel 13 reported on Tuesday that the boy’s family in Italy had submitted a petition to a Tel Aviv court for his return to Italy.
Eitan, whose parents were Israeli nationals resident in Italy, had been living with his paternal aunt Aya Biran-Nirko in Pavia before his alleged abduction. Biran-Nirko, who raised the alarm after Eitan was taken out by his grandfather on Saturday morning but not returned home by early evening as agreed, was granted temporary custody of the child after he was discharged from hospital in Turin in June.
Gali Peleg, Eitan’s maternal aunt in Tel Aviv, last month began an adoption process, with her lawyer claiming during a press conference that the boy was being held hostage. In an interview with Israel’s Radio 103FM on Sunday, Peleg denied Eitan had been abducted. “We will not use that word,” she said. “What happened is that we brought Eitan home.”
His family in Israel told local media on Monday that the child was being given “psychological and medical care” at a hospital on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.
According to Israeli news reports citing government experts, bringing Eitan to the country against the wishes of his legal guardian may constitute abduction. In which case, unless the family in both countries reach an agreement, Israel might be forced to return Eitan to Italy.
Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, said on Monday the government was looking into the case before possibly intervening.
Eitan’s great grandparents also died in the crash, which is believed to have happened when a lead cable snapped, causing the cabin to hurtle backwards before falling about 20 metres into a wooded area below. The cabin was just a few metres away from Monte Mottarone, its destination almost 1,500 metres above sea level, when the crash happened. Fifteen people had boarded the cable car in Stresa, the town below, next to Lake Maggiore, for the 20-minute ride. Eight of the 14 people who died, including a five-year-old boy, were Italian nationals. The other victim was an Iranian national who lived in Rome.