The State Administration of Belarus
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Nicolas

MFA 2020.02.02 SW Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Second APPEAL (Complete)
The Sleeping Kingdom of Sweden

The Sleeping Kingdom of Sweden

To:
Mrs. Ann Linde, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden
Mr. Morgan Johansson, Minister for Justice and Migration of Sweden
Ms. Lena Hallengren, Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality / The Ombudsman for Children in Sweden

To all interested parties

Re:

Failure of the Swedish system in regards to The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (a.k.a. “Hague Abduction Convention”) – case of Anthie’ and Alexandra Cheropoulou.

Anthoula and Alexandra Cheropoulou Abducted 2017
Anthoula and Alexandra Cheropoulou Abducted 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank Ms. Y. for her response to my letter from December 15th, 2019. While I appreciate her time and efforts to address my questions, I would like rather hear a clear response directly from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, and this time around, also from the Ministry of Justice and Migration as well as from “The Ombudsman for Children” in Sweden. I, of course, understand that the practical matters around international parental abductions are handled by the Central Authority, that is falling under the remit of Sweden’s State Department for Foreign Affairs. I have dealt with them for almost three years now, so I do not need any explanation or guidance on this. My personal experience with the Central Authority of Sweden has been rather traumatic (and I will explain this further in my letter), which is also the reason why I am addressing all the Ministries directly.

I apologize in advance for the length of my letter, but I believe that it is critically important for everyone to understand the current failures and broken parts of the Swedish system in regard to the processes around the Hague Convention cases.

As many of you already know, my two daughters Anthie’ and Alexandra, Swedish citizens, have been abducted by their Belarussian mother (a non-Swedish citizen), Liudmila Trafimovich (Людмила Трафимович) from Sweden to Belarus on 18th of April 2017 and since then, I am battling with all legal means in Belarus to achieve the return of my daughters back to their home where they were born – to Sweden, using and relying upon the principles of The Hague Convention regarding International Child Abduction.

If you fail your citizens, you fail as a country.

I previously sent you several good examples of how other countries defend their citizens, and it has been done at the highest levels of those countries. These countries also have their own Central Authorities, and yet, the left-behind parents have been supported by their governments in a very outspoken, definitely not “neutral” way, which, unfortunately, cannot be said of Sweden.

Let’s refresh our memory:

In June, French President Emmanuel Macron met with Fichot and other French fathers and raised their cases with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, describing their situation as “unacceptable.” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also spoke with Abe about Italian parents’ rights at the Group of 20 meetings in the Japanese city of Osaka in June. Now, with French and Italian media outlets taking up the issue, the two European leaders are under pressure to speak up again when the Group of Seven leaders meeting in Biarritz, France, starting Aug. 24.

Source:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/parental-child-abduction-becomes-a diplomaticembarrassment-for-japan-ahead-of-g-7/2019/08/21/1e51a7fa-bf34-11e9-aff2-3835caab97f6_story.html

Not only that, as we know, Ecuador has sent an official delegation that had to fly more than 18 hours to Slovakia and another 18 hours back home (distance from Quito, Ecuador to Bratislava, Slovakia), which is ~36 hours total flight time (in the best scenario), only to protest a parental abduction in Slovakia. The Ecuadorian Parliament unanimously approved a resolution to send the Ombudsman, its Justice Minister, and its Foreign Affairs Minister to Slovakia to pursue the highest diplomatic level of law enforcement, said Blahová.

Source:
https://spectator.sme.sk/c/20831437/ecuador-sends-ministers-to-slovakia-to-resolve-a-childabduction-case.html

Note:
I am applauding Ecuador for their attitude and their actions. It must feel good to be their citizen. It takes only 1 hour and 35 min to fly directly from Stockholm to Minsk, and I am not aware of any Swedish representative who would fly to Minsk to officially protest the denial of justice in Belarus that my children and I are facing there. My representative from Belarus informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sweden at a very early stage of my legal battle in Belarus about the denial of justice that I was facing there (please find attached Ref. Nr. 1) – their only response was a deafening silence.

A diplomatic conflict between Norway and Morocco followed. The Norwegian response must be seen in the light of Norway’s self-identity as a front-runner for children’s rights. Ultimately, helping the children had to trump concerns about diplomatic costs. The broader dilemmas that this case exemplifies should also be relevant to other cases where a state’s concern for a child citizen is pitted against its obligation to diplomatic conventions.

Source:
https://brill.com/view/journals/hjd/13/2/article-p167_167.xml?language=en

The Swedish Ambassador Christina Johannesson had the opportunity to invite (at least formally and/or symbolically) my children to a child competition that they organized on December 20, 2019, at their Embassy. They did not bother to do even that.

How is it possible that, for instance, the US government did not hesitate to keep pressure on Argentina when they saw that this country was unable to follow the rules?

  • In August 2017, during an official visit to Argentina, the Department formally raised U.S. concerns about Argentina’s performance with senior Argentine officials, citing the high percentage of unresolved Convention abduction cases.
  • In September 2017, Department officials met in Argentina with officials from the Argentine Supreme Court and child welfare advocates.
  • In December 2017, the U.S. embassy provided a forum for the International Visitor Leadership Program participants to share with the Argentine Central Authority what they learned about U.S. Convention implementation.
  • In a February 2018 digital video conference, senior U.S. Central Authority officials met with Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and the newly installed Argentine Central Authority Director to address the Department’s concern for resolving longstanding Convention cases.
  • In May 2018, the Consul General of the U.S. embassy met with the Hague Conference on Private International Law and the Argentine Central Authority to discuss procedural reforms for improving Argentine compliance.

In June 2018, the Consul General of the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires met with the Argentine Hague Network Judge to discuss a joint effort to provide training to the Argentine judiciary on the expeditious processing of Convention cases. In the same month, the Consul General delivered a demarche to the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, notifying the Argentine authorities that the Department cited Argentina in the 2018 Annual Report for demonstrating a pattern of noncompliance during 2017. Following the demarche, the U.S. embassy undertook a related media campaign, conducting an interview with a local media outlet and publishing a series of social media posts to raise awareness among the public of Argentina’s noncompliance.

As we can see, for some reason, all of the other governments (Presidents, Prime Ministers, Justice Ministers, Foreign Affairs Ministers, diplomats, and embassy personnel) had no problem going ahead and risking a diplomatic conflict when their citizens needed help.

Source:
https://www.international-divorce.com/argentinas-noncompliance—international-child-abduction—us-july-2018-action-report

Can anybody in Sweden please clarify why nothing similar at a high level has been done in my case for my two daughters? Especially when seeing that dealing with Belarus is not going anywhere, as their system ignores and laughs off any principles of the Hague Convention. Can you please motivate your indifference towards your own citizens, two girls, now 4 and 7 years old? Is it because their father happens to have dual citizenship? Or, did the Swedish State decide to sacrifice – trade my children and, in reward, achieve their business plans in Belarus?

I believe that my question is very clear, and I would like to get a very clear answer to this as well.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs owes this answer to all the citizens of Sweden, and not just to me.

I understand that Sweden tries hard to make money in Belarus (through IKEA or through other Swedish firms). I noticed that on November 25, 2019, foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland met with Belarus’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei in Minsk. I also understand that this was the first visit of the Swedish foreign minister to Belarus since 1992 when an agreement on diplomatic relations between our countries was signed in Minsk.

Ann Linde- Ex-minister MFA of Sweden defends officials wearing headscarves in Iran

She would basically just finally do what the other countries normally do in such cases, i.e., she would discuss this matter at the appropriate level, which is also logical considering this type of international issue. If President Macron had no problem with this and confronted Japan’s Abe, I do not see why Ms. Linde should not be qualified or confident enough to do the same in Belarus.

I would also like to note that Sweden should join other countries who struggle with Belarus as well (there are currently about 16 cases of international parental abduction that Belarus is processing) because if several different countries join their efforts internationally, there will be an impact. I am not talking about any sanctions against Belarus. I am talking about a coordinated professional and escalated diplomatic pressure on this country to return abducted children in line with the Hague Convention. And, if they need training for their personnel, please provide them with such help.

In addition:

  • The Belarusian Central Authority has no law enforcement powers, and Belarusian law enforcement agencies make no serious efforts to locate parentally abducted children or to help enforce the left-behind parent his/her custody rights in Belarus.
  • Belarusian authorities provide no effective help to the left behind foreign parents. Any answers from Belarussian authorities come with huge delays, and their authorities are always siding with the Belarussian abductor. You, as a foreigner, are facing a Chinese wall in Belarus.
  • There is an apparent lack of understanding of the Convention among the judiciary in Belarus. They almost look at you as if you were an Alien when you expect them to act in line with the Hague Convention rules. Also, the judges are literally scared to make the right decision, as they all live under heavy censorship and dictatorship, and they know very well what may happen if Belarussian interests are jeopardized, questioned, or undermined in any way. They won’t take any risks just because of you or your kids. They are de facto hostages of their own system.
  • The Belarusian Central Authority does not have adequate resources to perform its functions under the Convention. In addition, they like to endlessly refer you from one office to another only to cause further delays, which, of course, is then used against you and your case.

The fundamental idea of the Hague Convention is that custody issues should be decided by the country of a child’s habitual residence (in my case: Sweden), not by the country to which a parent has abducted a child. In addition, it is recommended that Hague cases be completely concluded within SIX WEEKS. In my case, the Swedish court has given me full custody of my children, yet, the children are still not back home. How is this possible?

Let’s not forget that if this SIX-WEEKS rule worked and if all the countries respected and honored this rule, there would be no further need to ask the left-behind parents to start lengthy, super-expensive, stressful litigations abroad.

Was this the intention of this Hague Convention?

Why do we have a 6-week rule IF IT DOES NOT WORK?

And who came up with the idea that an average regular citizen of any country can afford to spend EUR 90 (or more) thousands of his/her own money for this? Having also to face a totally different legal system (that ignores you), language barriers, mentality differences, traveling there, etc. What if the left-behind parent is sick, ill, older, partially disabled, or just purely emotionally exhausted and physically and mentally unable to lead such a long legal battle? I had to come to the conclusion that the governments simply did not want to spend this money themselves, and that’s why they simply shifted this burden onto their citizen. But this is fundamentally wrong.

We already pay our dues to the government with our taxes! And, what do we get in return?

It should not be a matter of anyone’s personal financial situation to be able to achieve justice. Especially because this is not a purely family matter – we are talking about internationally abducted citizens. Basically, it means that the governments made their own citizens work for the government for free, doing all the heavy lifting, making them pay for everything, and helping them only minimally.

And so, of course, seeing Sweden’s passivity, Belarus took advantage of it, and it easily violated its treaty obligations to Sweden with impunity, refusing to return Swedish children under the Child Abduction Convention, stealing custody jurisdiction from Swedish courts, and awarding de facto or de jure sole custody to their citizens who have committed felonies.

They do that because – they can. Nobody is protesting this. Nobody is reacting. Nobody says anything. So, why not?

To further illustrate Belarus’ total ignorance of any attempts to improve their conditions, please refer to the recent statement of their Education Minister Igor Karpenko, who said that there was no need to introduce any Ombudsman for Children in Belarus since, apparently, all is great in their country.

Source:
https://naviny.by/new/20200127/1580099323-ministr-karpenko-belarusi-ne-nuzhen-institutupolnomochennogo-po-pravam

However, it is not only Belarus that is to blame.

Swedens Central Authority:

In regard to the quality of services of the Swedish Central Authority, I regret to inform you that I experienced several grave issues when working with this agency, including the fact that its employees initially had no clue about Belarus’ Hague Convention status.

Below please find just a few of the bullet points describing the indifference and the incompetence of the Swedish authorities after I filled my Hague application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sweden on April 26, 2017, just 8 days after the abduction:

  1. The officer responsible for my case, Ms. L.A., Deputy Director/Head of Section, didn’t even know that Belarus was a contracting state of The Hague Convention.
  2. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sweden and Ms. A. did not react in any way to the confirmation received from their counterpart in Belarus, where the Belarussian authorities stated that they could not give them any information about the whereabouts of the abductor and that the parental abduction was not considered a legal offense in Belarus.

To me, this was unbelievable because it was obvious that the Swedish side either did not understand the content of that letter; or did not even know how to respond (as they were not experienced or qualified enough), or they simply did not bother to react; or, all of the above. Therefore, I sent a protest email to the Swedish authorities, which, however, was ignored as well.

  1. The Swedish State Authorities (Migration Authorities) are publishing misleading and wrong information to the public in regards to the terms of getting Belarussian citizenship for children. Based on the old Belarussian legislation, the parent from another country must have given his/her consent for his or her child to become a citizen of Belarus. However, that is not true anymore, and this has never been updated online despite the fact that I notified Ms. A of this issue several times. So, they give the public a false sense of security because we, as a public, are then thinking that our kids can’t just suddenly become citizens of another country. However, they can, which then opens the door to their easier abduction!

I researched the issue, and I have proved to Ms. A. that this published information was actually wrong and outdated because my children became Belarussian citizens without my knowledge or consent. I found out that in 2006, Belarussian laws had been amended and that consent from the foreign parent was not necessary anymore.

This means, that the information provided to the Swedish public is wrong and invalid for at least 13 years! Do you find this normal?

Despite the fact that I notified Ms. A. of this serious issue and asked her to correct it so that the public is not misled, to my shock, I recently found out that the same old document is still published online (last checked online 2020.02.02):

Source:
https://lifos.migrationsverket.se/dokument?documentSummaryId=6821

This means that the Swedish authorities completely ignored my request, and they continue to mislead the public with false and inaccurate information.

  1. I also asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sweden to send an “Observer” from the Swedish side to participate in a hearing in Belarus. This is something that, by the way, other countries would do automatically. While Sweden was still nowhere to be found, the State of Greece reacted through the Greek Embassy in Moscow because my children are also Greek citizens. The Greek Honorary Consul in Minsk participated in a hearing at the Minsk City Court in May 2018 (although he did not have to), as my children were abducted from Sweden and not from Greece. However, the Honorary Greek Consul, who by ethnicity is Greek and also a citizen of Belarus, was taken off the stage rather quickly. Guess by whom?

Do you see the difference here?

  1. Another proof of a non-existing normal process in Sweden is the fact that they do not even know that they are supposed to be sending hard copies to their counterparts abroad – as such, they failed to do so in my case, which was then, of course, used as an argument from the Belarussian authorities against me. So, instead of helping its citizens, Sweden repeatedly fails them.
  2. I kept informing the Swedish authorities about the way I was treated in Belarus, but their absence and indifference were obvious as usual. This allowed the courts in Belarus to make the illegal decision to grant the custody of my children to the “Abductor” – my ex-partner. The Swedish Central Authorities were informed about this. However, they did not do anything.
  3. They did not protest to their counterpart in Belarus, they did not escalate this anywhere, and they also did not follow up on this issue which has made my legal battle very hard, not to mention that their passivity has not helped me to get normal access to my children.

The Legal Aid Body in Sweden:

In Sweden, if your kids are abducted to another country, you can apply for financial help from the Legal Aid Body, which can help with your legal expenses. Their role is to appoint a lawyer who manages the invoices submitted to them directly by your lawyers from abroad. After reviewing and approving these expenses, the Legal Aid Body in Sweden is supposed to fully reimburse your lawyers abroad, but then they ask you (the left-behind parent) to return ~40% of that amount back to the Swedish Legal Aid Body (the exact % depends on the left-behind parent’s income). This means that, in theory, you are receiving some relief regarding the horrible legal expenses incurred abroad. This sounds good, doesn’t it?

However, there is a small catch: nobody tells you that there are limits to such financial aid. As usual, I had to learn this the hard way. After some time, they stopped helping me. 

One of the reasons was that my case was too expensive for them to fund! As if it was my fault that these international cases are so expensive! In Belarus, the lawyers charge you up to 200 EUR/hour.

So, if these legal cases are expensive for the Swedish authorities, how on Earth is an average person supposed to deal with these expenses?

Who can afford to spend so much cash so quickly to battle a case abroad? Or are we being indirectly suggested just to give up and not even bother to sue abductors abroad because – it is too expensive? Going back to the examples from America, wouldn’t it be cheaper if these international abduction cases were actually managed directly by the Swedish government instead of shifting the whole financial and legal burden onto their citizen? How is it my problem that Sweden has not created any logical and efficient way to deal with this?

And, when it comes to their actual work, even that is too much for them to handle: these “experts” have confused the payments to the lawyers in Belarus. In one case, they sent the payment to the wrong account. In another case, they delayed payment for a very long time without explaining the reason. As a result, this triggered a series of personal insults, humiliation, threats, and blackmailing from the representatives in Belarus directed towards me personally because they believed that I was the one responsible for the failures of the Legal Aid Body in Sweden! It went so far that one of my lawyers there sued me personally (for over EUR 5000 ) in Sweden, and the other one, to “retaliate” to me for the nonpayment, has sent confidential and sensitive information about my case to the “Abductor”, of course “by mistake”, as she claimed later.

All of this has forced me to immediately travel to Minsk to find a new lawyer there, and to postpone the planned hearing on the 5th of June 2018, adding more expenses to my already limited budget.

When I appealed their decision to stop further payments to Belarus, they simply did not consider my arguments and the issues that I presented to them. It is obvious that this decision was made to cover up the incompetence and irresponsibility of the Legal Aid Body Director, Mr. Bengt Arnstam, and of the lawyer S. E-C. whom they appointed for this job.

As you can see, working with the Swedish authorities and also with the Swedish Legal Aid Body is just a horrible experience.

To summarize my personal experience with the Swedish authorities in regard to my specific abduction case, I regret to confirm the following;

1) The Swedish authorities provide you, a left-behind parent, with minimal (if any at all) moral, legal, financial, diplomatic, or any other type of help or support.

2) If a left-behind parent does not chase, follow up, remind, push, call, email, plead for help, etc., the Swedish authorities simply prefer to play dead or find cheap excuses for their inactivity. Getting any reaction from the Swedish authority feels like pulling teeth.

3) Even if they finally (!!!) do something, it usually is done in a wrong and unqualified way,, and they rather damage your case instead of helping it – of course, they do not even feel responsible for causing such damage at all because they usually do not even notice that they caused any damage (you have to explain even this to them).

5) My letter does not intend to hurt any specific person who has been involved with my case on the Swedish side; it is rather a feedback, a small audit, and a reflection of their way of work, which clearly shows that currently, Sweden is not well-prepared to handle this type of cases at all, and there should be a very strong and fast correction done on the Swedish authorities side in this regard (retraining of the personnel, management changes, speeding up responses, breaking the silos between various units, personal contact with the left-behind parents, appointing one dedicated and committed case officer to the left-behind parent, etc.).

6) In my opinion, the legislation, with laws, rules, and citizen’s rights in Sweden, is designed to cover up the irresponsibility, incompetence, and indifference of the state and those who are sitting in key positions with a lack of professional skills and ethics.

I wish the state authorities/bodies were able to admit their failures, and I wish they quickly change the system so that it will not happen again. As of today, the Swedish authorities have caused a lot of damage to my legal case.

Please note that to this day, as you already know, I have already spent about EUR 90 thousand of my own money to fund the litigation in Belarus, and Sweden has helped me with a fraction of this amount. I have dealt with the Belarussian courts on my own while also chasing the Swedish Central Authority and the Swedish lawyers who were simply not working as expected. I can honestly say that I did the absolute maximum a human being can do when trying to recover my daughters.

My daughters are currently held captives at a Belarussian Monastery (at the Saint Elisabeth Convent in Minsk, Belarus – “Свято-Елисаветинский женский монастырь в г. Минске”) where they are being brainwashed every day by an ultra-nationalist Archpriest Mr. Lemeshonok and his nuns, and this is, by the way, considered a mental abuse and endangerment of my (or: of any) children. Not to mention that they grow up with their mentally unstable mother,, who has been under the care of a Swedish psychologist for at least 5 years. I have zero contact with them since their mother simply does not respond to my calls, text messages, or any other attempts to contact them. They are ~1000 km away from me, and they forgot how to speak Swedish or Greek. I now have no way to even talk to them (not that I am able to!) as I do not speak Russian. From time to time, the abductor sends a couple of pictures (but not me) with their “smiling faces” only to kind of show that they are happy there even without me, their father.

At which point will Sweden take a step back and rethink their dance around Belarus?

In this context, the presentation of Ms. Ann Linde published on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sounds almost comical;

Finally, I also enclose recent appeals to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sweden from my representatives, Attorney Ms. Martha Poni and Attorney Mr. A.K., which cannot be misinterpreted (please find attached Ref. Nr. 2 & 3).

As such, I am hereby asking the international arena to please help my daughters in any way they are able to.

Please feel free to reach out to me anytime with any questions.

Kind regards,
Nicolas AA Cheropoulos
Father of Anthie’ and Alexandra
Stockholm 2020.02.02
Reviewed Oct. 2023
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