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OFFICIALS at the Australian embassy in Italy — helping an Australian mother abduct her four girls — made last-minute flight changes in order to avoid detection by their Italian father, Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes claimed last night.
The woman fled with her four Italian-born children to Australia from custody arrangements with her ex-husband in 2010 under the guise of a two-week holiday.
The woman claimed her former husband was physically and psychologically abusing her and the children.
After a highly public legal dispute the girls were forcibly deported from the Sunshine Coast to Italy in October.
The Australian Family Court had authorised federal officers to remove the children declaring the mother was in breach of the international child abduction treaty, the Hague Convention.
The 60 Minutes program cited internal documents from the embassy to allege that it aided the mother’s and children’s departure from Italy without her husband’s knowledge.
The embassy organised for the mother and her daughters one-way airfares, money for a hotel in Rome and transport to the flight.
They also changed the flight after she expressed concern that the ex-husband might turn up at the last minute.
“They knew we were leaving permanently and they didn’t want him to stop us,” she said.
This is supported by embassy documents obtained by 60 Minutes that appear to warn of the danger faced by the mother if she remained in Italy. “He will kill her,” one document warned.
It was also alleged that the embassy never undertook to independently verify her claims of abuse which the father strongly denies. “Why did the Australian embassy not telephone me and ask me what happened?” the father told the program.
“It is just unfair.”
The mother made further claims that it was never explained to her what the legal implication of her flight could be, except a consular official at the airport telling her to seek legal advice in Australia.
While acknowledging it did organise the departure, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade denied wrongdoing and said the Family Court had cleared its conduct.
The program was the subject of last-minute legal wrangling with the grandmother of the girls attempting to stop 60 Minutes from screening her interview, saying she feared for her life. Lawyers for the Victorian woman made a failed application for an injunction against the Nine Network at the Supreme Court on Friday.