The only survivor of a deadly cable car crash has been allegedly kidnapped by his grandfather during a custody battle.
Eitan Biran, whose parents, younger brother and two great grandparents were killed in the tragedy in northern Italy in May, had been living with his paternal aunt Aya Biran-Nirko since being released from the hospital.
On Saturday, however, the six-year-old was taken to Israel against the wishes of other relatives, prompting Italian authorities to launch an investigation.
According to Italian media, Eitan’s maternal grandfather, Shmuel Peleg – who moved to Italy after the tragic crash and had visitation rights – took the child out on Saturday morning but did not bring him home at 6.30pm as agreed.
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Peleg, who had the child’s Israeli passport, allegedly drove Eitan to Lugano, Switzerland, and took the boy out of Italy on a private jet, Corriere della Sera reports.
The newspaper reports the grandfather made the decision as he believed the boy was in poor “mental and physical condition”.
His worried aunt raised an alarm when the child did not return home, with police launching a probe.
Diplomatic sources then confirmed the boy and his grandfather had arrived in Israel.
Eitan’s aunt said she repeatedly contacted Peleg and initially he did not reply, before allegedly telling her: “Eitan has returned home.”
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Armando Simbari, a lawyer representing Biran-Nirko, told Corriere della Sera: “The news is upsetting for everyone and creates a lot of concern. He [Eitan] was snatched from the family he grew up with, and from the doctors still treating his trauma.”
Meanwhile, Peleg, 58, has been placed under investigation by Italian magistrates on suspicion of kidnapping.
According to reports in Israel today, government officials have condemned the boy’s return as kidnapping and may send the boy back to Italy.
Eitan’s maternal aunt Gali Peleg filed for adoption in August, claiming that the boy was being held hostage in Italy.
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Yesterday, she told Israel’s Radio 103FM: “We did not kidnap Eitan… we brought him home.”
The child’s paternal aunt described the news as “another tragedy for Eitan”, according to Corriere della Sera.
She also raised concerns for the boy’s health as since the tragedy he has been receiving support by psychologists and therapists in Italy.
Eitan was involved in a bitter custody battle since the tragedy on May 23.
The crash killed his mother Tal, 26, father Amit, 30, two-year-old brother Tom and great-grandparents Itshak and Barbara Cohen, 82 and 70.
Matteo Gasparini, provincial head of Italy’s Alpine rescue service, said at the time there appeared to have been two major problems – the breakage of the cable and the failure of the emergency brake.
The boy was taken to hospital after suffering multiple bone fractures in the cable crash tragedy and was discharged in June.
His father’s sister Aya Biran-Nirko, who lives in Italy, was named the boy’s legal guardian by Italian judges.
The decision, however, was contested by his mother’s family, who demanded he be relocated to Israel before Peleg allegedly took him at the weekend.