A Norwegian court has acquitted for the second time a man who abducted his four-year-old daughter outside a Nicosia kindergarten in 2017 on the grounds that his former partner had lied to authorities to get custody of their child, it emerged on Tuesday.
According to Greek news outlet Proto Thema, the appeals court in Norway upheld its 2021 decision, directly questioning the reliability of the procedures followed in Cyprus, strongly suggesting her Cypriot mother had tried to manipulate the courts to gain custody.
Marie-Eleni, then four, had been taken by her father Leif Torkel Grimsrud, then 49, to Norway but was finally returned to the island in October 2017, after Grimsrud surrendered to police following lengthy negotiations. Grimsrud was charged with kidnapping offences.
The child had been at the centre of a bitter custody dispute between Grimsrud and Eleni Ioannou, his ex-wife and the child’s mother.
During Grimsrud’s trial in Norway, the court focused on the period from the child’s birth in 2013, to November 2015, when she was taken to Cyprus by her mother unbeknownst to the father.
Marie-Eleni was born in Norway on the insistence of her father, who felt that she would be entitled to more benefits that way. Two months later, Ioannou returned to Cyprus with her baby and has been living on the island since.
The father made regular visits to Cyprus, and Marie-Eleni and her mother would also travel to Norway three to four times a year to see him.
But everything was turned upside down when Grimsrud withheld Ioannou and his daughter’s passports, forbidding them to leave the country when they last visited him on October 2015 for four days, at his request, to celebrate his birthday and visit a theme park.
After Ioannou’s family and friends contacted Cypriot authorities they issued an order for the immediate return of Marie-Eleni and her mother to Cyprus, they managed to return home via Sweden 15 days later by using their identity cards.
The father then reported that his daughter had been kidnapped but the claim was dismissed by authorities.
Since that incident, Marie remained in Cyprus and communicated with her father through Skype. The Cypriot court ruled that she should live in Cyprus with her mother.
The father, according to the family, did not file for access but for custody in Norway. It was rejected as were four appeals.
The Norwegian court found that the father had no idea a Cypriot court had granted the mother temporary sole custody the same day the child went missing in Norway, nor that she had started proceedings for an international arrest warrant against him in October of that year.
It also found that the father had not been informed of the start of a legal process for child custody, so he was deprived of the right to be present in court.
The prosecutor initially proposed a three-month suspended sentence, but Grimsrud was eventually acquitted for the second time.
According to the latest ruling, the mother had told the court in Cyprus that she and the child were on the island at a time when they were in fact living in Norway.
Testimonies and evidence presented before the Norwegian court prove that the child was attending a kindergarten in Norway in 2015 when the mother later claimed they had been in Cyprus.
The ruling also referred to false testimonies and other made-up information aimed to convince the Cypriot court the girl was going to a kindergarten in Cyprus and was living with her mother on the island.
Marie-Eleni was taken outside her kindergarten in Dasoupoli on April 27, 2017.
The 49-year-old had sent an email to his ex on the day of the kidnapping, saying he would spend a week with their daughter and then contact his lawyers to settle the custody issue.
For months, police were unable to locate the father and daughter, and though seven people had been arrested in connection with the abduction, they were later released as they denied any involvement.
In May 2017, a European and international arrest warrant was issued for Grimsrud, while the Oslo district court ordered, in August, the immediate return of Marie-Eleni to Cyprus.
Marie-Eleni was found in Norway in October 2017, after her father surrendered to police.
Grimsrud told Proto Thema that he feels satisfied and vindicated by his unanimous acquittal, but his fight will end when his daughter returns home to Norway.
Norwegian police authorities are now expected to be asked to look into how the child left Norway in 2015 without the father’s approval.