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Article de The TIMES : A royal custody battle

Jeudi 12 avril - 14h58

The photographs in Candice Cohen-Ahnine’s flat tell of happy times : Aya, her daughter, playing on the sand on a family Holiday and smiling at her primary school. Now, there are no such moments to share. Aya is in Saoudi Arabia, where she is the centre of an extraordinary battle between her mother, who is Jewish, and her father, who is a member of the country’s royal family.

A french court heard in february that she had been retained in Riyadh by Prince Sattam al Saoud for the past four years. Judge Hélène Bussière awarded custody to Cohen-Ahnine and ordered the prince to pay her child support oh €10, 000 a month.. But the prince told a French magazine he had no intention of allowing Aya to leave his place.

Cohen Ahnine Says she has not seen her daughter, who is 10, for three years. They have only been able  to speak on the telephone once or twice a month during that period. « It’s inhuman, », she says.

« You wouldn’t even treat your worst enemy like that ».

Yet, her meeting with Prince Sattam in a nightclub on the Hackney Road in 1997 had all the éléments of a Hollywood romance.

She, a pretty, 20 year-old Parisienne, was enjoying her first Holiday in London. He, tall, handsome and immensely rich, asked the waiter to deliver a magnum of Cristal Roederer champagne to her talbe. « During about a mnth znd a half, he did everything possible to conquer me, » she remember. « And who wouldn’t have Fallen Under his charm, who wouldn’t have cracked ? »

In Rendez-moi ma fille (give me back my daughter), a book about her struggle, Cohen-Ahnine wrote that during his courtship, he even pretended that he was Jewish. Love being blind, she believed him.

« Deep down, I knew the truth, » she says. « ButI was happy to hear what he was telling me. » Their Relationship lasted almost a decate of passion, rows, despair and réconciliation, according to her account. She fell prégnant once and tried to commit suicide once and tried to commitsuicide when he told her to have an abortion. The second time, she determined to keep the baby, and says Prince Sattam encouraged her to do so.

Aya was bornin southern France on November 27, 2001. The girl spent her early years with her mother. But in Paris Family Court heard that her father wouldn’t flit in and out of their lives, until 2006, when he announced that he was obliged to marry a cousin.

Cohen-Ahnine said that after they split, she travelled with her daughter to Riyad in 2008 « so that Aya could keep in touch with her father ». But she tld the court that she had been « taken hostage » for nine mounths ; Kept Under guard and allowed only minimal contact with Aya.

The court heard that when  she escaped from the palace, she took refuge in the French embassy in Riyadh before fleeing the country, without her daughter.

Ever since then, she has been trying to bring Aya back to France.

« she’s there and she’s waiting for me », says Cohen-Ahnine. «Once she told me :’Mummy, I’m just looking forward to the day that embassy tells me I can go home’ ».

Prince Sattam did not reply to The Times’s requests for an interview. However, he has previously disputed Cohen-Ahnine’s account of évents, including the alleged abduction of this daughter and her mother’s claims that she was taken hostage.

Adam Sage