Friday, September 22, 2000

Father seeks powerful help in custody battle

Secretary of state hears plea to assist

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is used to meeting with men who can move armies or turn markets.

        All Tom Sylvester had Thursday afternoon was a few photographs of his little girl and a father's pride.

[photo] Tom Sylvester of Blue Ash holds a photo of his daughter, Carina, after meeting Thursday with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to enlist her help in the custody battle involving the girl.
(Gannett News Service photo)
| ZOOM |
        “She's wonderful,” Mr. Sylvester, of Blue Ash, said of his 6-year-old daughter, Carina. “She's marvelous.”

        In an extraordinary meeting between citizen and diplomat, Mr. Sylvester, an automotive industry executive, asked Ms. Albright to personally get involved in an international custody dispute with his former wife, Monika Rossmann, who removed Carina, then 13 months old, from the couple's Michigan home five years ago and took her to live in Austria.

        The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which the United States and Austria have signed, requires countries in most cases to return children to the country of their births to determine custody.

        Mr. Sylvester has obtained court orders in the United States and Austria to regain custody of his daughter, but the rulings have not been enforced. In Mr. Sylvester's and Ms. Albright's talk, which was closed to the news media, he said Ms. Albright promised to call Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel about the dispute.

        A 1999 State Department report to Congress criticized Austria for not following the convention, based in large part on Mr. Sylvester's case. A new report is expected next week, and State Department officials said Thurs day that Austria has not made significant progress and could again be listed as noncompliant.

        After the meeting, Mr. Sylvester said he was encouraged.

        “My ex-wife has always said, "The difference between your government and my government is that my government stands behind me.' Well, maybe that's changing.”

        Martin Weiss, director of press and information at the Embassy of Austria, said Austrian courts chose not to enforce custody rulings that favored Mr. Sylvester and have decided that it is in the best interests of Carina to remain with her mother.

        “This is the final ruling of the case,” he said. “It cannot be overturned.”

        Mr. Weiss said the two governments could work to expand visitation rights for Mr. Sylvester beyond the supervised visits now permitted.

        Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, who pressed for the meeting with Ms. Albright and attended with Mr. Sylvester, said her attention may prompt action for other parents of abducted children. The State Department estimates about 1,000 cases are open.

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