Nicosia criminal court on Tuesday dropped charges against four people accused of aiding and abetting the 2017 kidnapping and subsequent transport abroad of a four-year-old girl from outside her Nicosia kindergarten by her Norwegian father.
The case, shocked the Cyprus public, and the father has twice been acquitted by a Norwegian court.
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. He 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.
The charges faced by the four defendants, which their lawyers denied, included kidnapping from a legal guardian, kidnapping from a person exercising joint custody, and two counts of conspiracy to commit a felony at different times.
Five defendants were initially linked to the case, but after 18 witness testimonies, the fifth was acquitted of the charges.
After examining the facts of the case, the court dismissed the two charges from the outset, after concluding that the mother at the time of the kidnapping did not have exclusive custody of the child and therefore did not have the exclusive “legal guardianship” of her either.
Regarding the remaining charges for abducting a person from joint custody and committing a felony, the court pointed out that the defendants are being prosecuted for providing assistance to the father of the four-year-old girl.
According to the court, the essence of its decision is that “despite the fact that any actions, agreements, consultations, or joint movements between the defendants in this specific case culminated in the kidnapping and what happened on April 27, 2017, and the first moments that followed, these do not extend nor can they be connected with the unknown way and time of the transfer of the minor outside the borders of the Republic”.
A testimony said that one of the five defendants arranged and paid for accommodation for the father and child following the kidnapping, in Vasa Kilaniou, and alongside two of the other defendants, arranged to provide food.
Despite this, the court ruled that there was no evidence pointing out her involvement in helping the father take the child outside of Cyprus.
Going back to an email sent by Grimsrud, which said that after his one-week holiday with the child he would contact his lawyers to settle the custody issue, the court said that there did not seem to be an overtly expressed intention on his part to take her outside of the country, therefore it cannot be assumed that the defendant was acting with this intention.
Despite their contact with the father and involvement in his actions while on the island, there is no evidence showing that any of the defendants were explicitly involved in helping him take the child abroad, the court concluded.
What still remains unknown, the court said, is when and how the child was transported out of Cyprus.