Lecturer 'abducted' sons to Moscow
A Russian academic who lectured at a London university "abducted" two of his sons after their mother moved to a women's refuge complaining that she was a victim of "long-standing domestic violence", a High Court judge said today.
Ilya Neustadt, 38, took Daniel Neustadt, now eight, and his brother, Jonathan Neustadt, now six, from their home in London to Moscow on Christmas Day 2012 after lulling ex-wife Rachael Neustadt, 37, into a false sense of security, said Mr Justice Peter Jackson.
He then engaged in a "series of cynical manoeuvres, delaying tactics and deceptions" knowing that Ms Neustadt would be "powerless to oppose" and had "set about teaching" the boys that they "did not need" two parents, said the judge.
The judge said Mr Neustadt had been willing to "root" Ms Neustadt out of the children's lives.
He said Mr Neustadt's actions amounted to "not just child abduction" but "child abuse".
The boys - who have a two-year-old brother, Meir - were returned to London in June after their mother took legal action in England and Russia.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson has criticised Mr Neustadt in a written ruling after analysing the latest stage of that litigation at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London.
The judge said Mr Neustadt, who was a lecturer at the London Metropolitan University and is still in Moscow, wanted to resume contact with his children.
He said he had conducted a "fact-finding hearing" in an attempt to establish what had happened and to assess whether Mr Neustadt's "expressions of regret" were genuine.
The judge said everyone involved could be identified.
Judge Jackson said the children had been "habitually resident" in England and, after their parents' separation, a family court had approved "carefully negotiated " arrangements under which they lived with their mother and spent time with their father.
"The father's removal of the children was an abduction," said the judge.
"When he took the children from London, he had no intention of returning them. He had planned it for months, lulling the mother into a false sense of security."
The judge added: "Having successfully got hold of the children, the father set about strengthening his position by engaging in a series of cynical manoeuvres, delaying tactics and deceptions that he knew the mother would be powerless to oppose."
And he went on: "I find that he intended to keep the children indefinitely."
Judge Jackson said Mr Neustadt had "flouted" every English court order - and when faced with Russian court orders had "gone underground" and "brainwashed" the two boys.
" They were brainwashed into believing that they were being pursued by dangerous bandits, including their mother," said the judge.
"The seriousness of this is not only measured by the length of the separation created by the father, but also by his willingness to root the mother out of the children's lives."
He added: "This was not just child abduction, it was child abuse."
Judge Jackson said one of Mr Neustadt's "strategies" had been to "politicise the children's situation for his own ends".
"He took to the Russian media in an attempt to whip up domestic political sentiment by means of deliberate lies, and he delayed the children's return by obtaining a travel ban. He pursued his goal of keeping control of the children in every legal and illegal way he could devise," said the judge.
"The children and their mother have been profoundly affected by these events. For a year and a half, their lives were turned upside down. The boys were separated from their mother and brother. They were forced to live a bizarre clandestine life, surrounded by lies and cut off from normal existence.
"It will take a long time for them to come to terms with these experiences."
Judge Jackson said Mr Neustadt did not attend the fact-finding hearing - which took place in October - but gave evidence via video link.
"At this hearing, the father had the opportunity to show regret and insight. Unfortunately, by his written and oral evidence, his questioning of the mother, his submissions, and his decision not to attend the hearing in person, he showed that he has little appreciation of the impact of his actions on anyone else, including the children," said the judge.
"Throughout his evidence he was pedantic, unreliable and untruthful. When confronted methodically with the clearest evidence, his reaction was to misrepresent, prevaricate, minimise, extenuate and contest. There was no sign of any real remorse. So far, his apologies are no more than a means to an end, motivated by disadvantage and the failure of his grand plan."
He added: "Anyone meeting these parents without knowing the family history is liable to be misled - misled into underestimating past events by the mother's extraordinary serenity and dignity, and misled into underestimating future risks by the father's outward appearance of intelligence and courtesy. Given the sustained ruthlessness of his conduct, the risk of further alienation or abduction is high."
The judge said the next stage of the legal proceedings would focus on the children's welfare.
"However harmful their father's behaviour has been, he is an important figure for them," said the judge.
"Unfortunately, he set about teaching them that they do not need two parents.
"It will take them time to unlearn that lesson."
Ms Neustadt, an American teacher, had agreed to Mr Neustadt's request to take the children to Russia for Christmas - and was told they would return in early January 2013.
She told the judge that Mr Neustadt's abduction of the children had been about "power".
"I believe the abduction of the children was masterminded by Mr Neustadt in order to demonstrate power and ego, and to torment, punish and hurt me," she said.
"It was about control and his perception of winning, and not about anything else, including about the children.
"If we backtrack two years ago, we were at a pretty good place: divorcing, working through things, organising finances, sharing time with the children. I was interested in promoting a most fulfilling childhood for them.
"Mr Neustadt did not share these motives. Instead of a lovely family vacation, the children and I have had a horrible, traumatising experience and the children will be affected for the rest of their lives.
"Mr Neustadt tends to blame others rather than to take responsibility. He may be remorseful for the negative ramifications of his actions, not for the actions themselves."
She added: "I believe he is not capable of putting the children's interests above his own. I believe he is perhaps unstable. This has been a very unfortunate experience for everyone involved."