A court hearing due to take place in Grasse on Tuesday October 11 is expected to put a child custody case back on track after the process was previously derailed by the snatching of the two-year-old boy from his mother’s arms.
What makes the case so special is that the abduction of young Leonardo was given a gloss of legitimacy by the fact that it was a contingent of French gendarmes and a private bailiff who took the youngster from his mother, former Monaco resident Sarah Jane O’Brien.
The Gendarmerie immediately handed the toddler to the ex-partner Paul Tonna and his family just days before a previous custody hearing was due to take place in Grasse on May 24 this year. Leonardo was then taken to Malta, where the well-connected Tonna family have a successful and high-profile business.
A Maltese-based lawyer acting for Sarah Jane’s estranged partner and his family had obtained an order under The Hague Convention on Child Abduction, claiming that Sarah Jane had abducted her two-year old son. This same Lawyer Robert Thake moved his offices over to Marseilles for all three hearings that took place there without Sarah Jane’s knowledge or presence.
When the child was taken from her arms at the villa in Antibes, members of her estranged partner’s family were present. His eldest sister filmed the proceedings.
The flagrant disregard for the ongoing custody process piqued the interest of an eminent Nice lawyer, Maitre Patrick Rizzo, who specialises in miscarriage of justice cases such as Sarah Jane’s.
Sarah Jane and her legal team immediately took the case to the French Ministry of Justice, which is working alongside the Irish and French Embassies.
There is a suspicion that Mr Tonna’s status in Malta and his family’s strong political connections may have smoothed the way for them to obtain the inexplicable cooperation of officials in Marseille, a jurisdiction far removed from her local court in Grasse.
According to one member of Sarah Jane’s legal team: “This whole business has a very bad smell about it.”
FILE PHOTO: Sarah Jane and her son before the child was taken from her. She has not seen him since he was taken to Malta in May