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Italy issues arrest warrant for grandfather of cable crash survivor boy

Authorities also seek to detain the man who drove the Israeli and his grandson to Switzerland, where they boarded a private jet to Israel in a ‘strategic and premeditated plan’

Shmulik Peleg, maternal grandfather of Eitan Biran, who survived a cable car crash in Italy that killed his immediate family, arrives at court in Tel Aviv, Oct. 8, 2021 (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Shmulik Peleg, maternal grandfather of Eitan Biran, who survived a cable car crash in Italy that killed his immediate family, arrives at court in Tel Aviv, Oct. 8, 2021 (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Italy has issued an international arrest warrant for the grandfather of a boy whose parents died in an Italian cable car crash, alleging that he kidnapped the child when he took him from his aunt’s home in September and flew him to Israel.

The battle for custody of Eitan Biran, the sole survivor of the May crash that killed 14 people, including his parents, younger brother and great-grandparents, captured headlines even before his maternal grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, brought him to Israel on a private jet in September.

According to Italian daily Corriere Della Sera, warrants have been issued for Peleg as well as for Gabriel Abutubul Alon, a “contractor” who apparently drove the vehicle used to take Peleg and his grandson from Italy to neighboring Switzerland, from where they were flown to Israel.

Mario Venditti, the Italian prosecutor in Pavia who is investigating the kidnapping allegations leveled against Peleg, told the newspaper in an interview Wednesday that Peleg carried out a “strategic and premeditated plan” to take Biran out of Italy.

According to the report, Alon has variously identified himself as a lawyer and a legal consultant.

The report said Alon used the email address gabriel@balckwater.army [sic], suggesting links to the controversial private US military contractor Blackwater, now known as Academi. There was no evidence proffered to officially link Alon to the firm beyond the apparently incorrect email address.

The Biran family, with Eitan on the right. (Courtesy)

Corriere Della Sera said that Peleg, Alon and Biran were not stopped at the Swiss border and were able to board a Cessna 680 private plane that was chartered from a German company in Hanover at a cost of 42,000 euros (approximately $48,584).

It remains unclear who paid for the costs of bringing the boy to Israel.

Peleg has claimed he did not take a regular flight out of Italy because he wanted to travel with the child as fast as possible without exposing him to other people.

“We are dealing with a still very young child whose life has been turned upside down and scarred by a huge tragedy, and probably will remain so forever,”  said prosecutor Venditti.

“Despite this, [the boy] has been taken away from the place where he was recovering by his grandfather, one of the people who has a duty to help  him with love to overcome the trauma he suffered,” Venditti said.

The grandfather was questioned by Israeli police in September in connection with the kidnapping allegation, before being conditionally released.

In an interview at the time, Peleg defended his decision to bring the child to Israel, denying he kidnapped the boy.

However, relatives in Italy say Biran was taken without their knowledge.

Aya Biran-Nirko, left, a paternal aunt of Eitan Biran, the boy who survived a cable car crash in Italy that killed his immediate family, arrives to court in Tel Aviv, October 8, 2021. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

Last month a Tel Aviv court decided to send the 6-year-old back to Italy where he would remain in the custody of a paternal aunt. The judge recognized Aya Biran as a legitimate guardian based on a ruling by an Italian court and said Peleg had “unlawfully” removed the boy from his aunt’s care.

The court “ordered the return of the minor to his usual place of residence in Italy,” the country where he had been living since he was a month old, and noted that it is there that the boy’s future and well-being will be decided. In addition, Peleg was ordered to pay NIS 70,000 ($21,835) in court expenses.

The Pelegs have appealed the ruling, maintaining that Aya Biran had never been officially granted custody over Eitan and claiming the boy wants to remain in Israel.

In response to the appeal, the Biran family said in a statement that the original Tel Aviv family court ruling “speaks for itself.”

“We believe the district court will reject the appeal and that Eitan will be allowed to return to his family, to his school and to the therapeutic frameworks from which he was abducted.”

Rescuers work by the wreckage of a cable car after it collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region, northern Italy, May 23, 2021. (Italian Vigili del Fuoco Firefighters via AP)

At the time of the crash, Eitan and his parents, Amit Biran and Tal Peleg, and his younger brother, Tom, had been living in Italy, where Amit Biran was studying medicine.

In September, Peleg said his past conviction for domestic violence — in 2003, he entered a guilty plea for four counts of violence against his wife and was sentenced to 15 months probation and a fine — did not have “the smallest or most basic connection to Eitan” and pointed to the fact that he was given joint custody of his children in his divorce settlement a number of years after the conviction.

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