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CRIME

How Aussie dad beat Swedish police to find kidnapped sons

When Australian George Pesor's children were abducted by their mother on a visit to Sweden, police searched for six months without success. But when Pesor flew to Sweden and took matters into his own hands, he solved the case in just a week.

How Aussie dad beat Swedish police to find kidnapped sons

It’s many divorced parents’ nightmare: the kids go on a visit to the other parent, only to disappear off the face of the earth.

Some 95 Swedish children are currently believed to be kidnapped, in most cases by a parent or close family member. Many of the children are the product of a marriage between a Swede and a foreigner. Of all kidnapped Swedish children, 33 are thought to be held in Sweden and 62 abroad. In 60 percent of cases, the kidnapper is the mother.

In many cases, getting help from the police is an uphill struggle.

Australian George Pesor knows this only too well. His Swedish ex-wife failed to return their two sons back to Australia after they had been on a visit to Sweden. This despite the fact that Pesor had sole custody and his ex-wife only visiting rights.

Ingrid Carlqvist, a Swedish journalist who has written a book about Pesor’s case, says Swedish society is unfairly biased against fathers:

“Many mothers have come to believe that they are best for the children, even when a court has given full custody to the father. The mothers get support from the kvinnojourer [Sweden’s network of battered women shelters], the feminist movement, friends and families. Even the media write stories sympathetic to the mother, despite the fact that she’s the criminal.”

Pesor found this to his cost. Few media outlets initially took up his case, and it was only through blogging together with Carlqvist that he could generate some interest. Yet six months after his sons disappeared, the police investigation had turned up few leads. Pesor was forced to get on a plane to Sweden and take control of the situation. Amazingly, he had tracked down his children within a week.

Pesor’s troubles began last September when a court in Melbourne ordered that his sons Oliver, 11 and Nicholas, 10, must visit their mother in Sweden. The visit was ordered to go ahead despite the fact that the mother had told the boys on the phone that she would not let them go back to Australia again. She had also made numerous unsubstantiated child abuse allegations against Pesor’s brother-in-law.

Pesor let the boys go to Sweden, despite fearing that they wouldn’t come back. When he contacted airline KLM on October 9th to make sure they had boarded, his worst fears were confirmed – the airline computers had registered his sons as no-shows. He immediately sought a court order in Australia to get Oliver and Nicholas back. The order was granted and Swedish authorities agreed to implement it, in accordance with the Hague Convention, the international agreement covering international custody disputes.

The problem was that nobody knew where the children were.

“I was in continuous contact with the police in Australia and Sweden, as well as in Finland, Belgium and Germany – after all, we didn’t even know if they were still in the country,” he told The Local.

“It was a bureaucratic and slow process. On a personal level, police officers took this seriously, but after a couple of months I realised it was not a high priority and they were really just paying lip service.”

“Eventually I realised that this is not like it is on TV.”

Frustratingly, the police failed to follow up apparently vital clues. Pesor started a blog together with Ingrid Carlqvist, who had taken an interest in the case. They developed strong suspicions that one of the people making comments on the blog was the mother and one of the other commenters actually identified herself as the mother’s sister.

“The police refused to trace their IP addresses. They said it could have been anybody, and told me the 2,000 kronor cost of carrying out the searches was more than they could afford.”

This was the final straw – Pesor decided to take matters into his own hands: “I came to Sweden, slept in the car and started surveillance.”

Pesor met with police chiefs and told them he thought the boys’ grandparents’ house should be put under observation. If they couldn’t do it, he’d do it himself, he said. He parked close to the house and watched.

“It was odd – the blinds were closed the whole time. I bought a listening device so that I could hear what was going on inside. The very first window I listened at I could hear the boys and their mother. The adrenalin was going at 100 miles an hour.”

Pesor called the lead detective on the case, and within a couple of hours Pesor’s sons were being led out of the house by police officers. Pesor, who was parked down the street, stood on the roof of his car to get a better view of events:

“When I saw Oliver leave the house I just jumped off the car.” They were reunited a few hours later at a police station in Eskilstuna, where the boys were interviewed by police and social workers. Later that night, father and sons were told they were free to go back to Australia.

Carlqvist says she hopes her book about the case will change attitudes:

“Things are rarely black and white – there are horrible fathers, but also awful mothers. Whoever we are we have to follow the law and the courts’ decisions.”

The boys’ mother was convicted in July of arbitrary conduct with a child (Swe: ‘egenmäktighet med barn’) and sentenced to ten months in jail. She was also told to pay 140,000 kronor ($17,700) in compensation to the boys and their father.

Pesor is now happily reunited with his sons, but with an increasing number of international marriages, cases like his seem set to become more frequent.

Carlqvist’s book about Pesor, ‘Inte Utan Mina Söner,’ (‘Not Without my Sons’) is published by Blue Publishing.

Some names in this article have been changed.

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CRIME

KEY POINTS: What you need to know about Sweden’s police scandal

Sweden's front pages have been filled this month with stories about corruption and stalking allegations against one of the country's most senior police officers. Here's what you need to know.

KEY POINTS: What you need to know about Sweden's police scandal

When did the story break? 

On December 5th, The Expressen newspaper reported that Stockholm’s regional police chief Mats Löfving had in December 2021 been reported to the police for a “violation of integrity”, “stalking”, and “molestation” carried out between January 2015 and November 2021 against Linda Staaf, who was the intelligence chief in Sweden’s national police. 

What’s the background? 

The report had been made by the Police Authority’s national security manager, Ari Stenman, after Staaf in September 2021 contacted him and expressed concern that documents about her and her work had been repeatedly requested from the Police Authority. 

She had told Stenman that Löfving on several occasions had appeared at places where she was: at the sauna, at a bakery, and on the running track. 

The prosecutor Anders Jakobsson on December 15th, decided not to pursue charges or launch an investigation, judging that Löfving’s behaviour was “more a question of jealousy”. 

Staaf later told Expressen that she had asserted to Stenman that she did not think she was a victim of any crime, or consider Mats Löfving to have committed one, and had not known about his decision to file a police report. 

“I haven’t been a victim of any sort of crime, but instead there has been disrespectful behaviour that I was worried about and which I decided in the end to talk to the security chief about,” she told Dagens Nyheter (DN). 

On December 9th, Expressen reported that Löfving had also been reported for assaulting Staaf, with Ebba Sverne Arvill, the head of the police’s special operations division, reporting him on September 2020. 

Again, chief prosecutor Anders Jakobsson decided not to investigate the case. Arvill told DN that the female police chief who had alerted her to the claimed assault had later changed her story and refused to make a police report. 

Linda Staaf has also said that she did not believe herself to have been the victim of a crime in that case either. 

In January this year, Bengt Åsbäck, deputy prosecutor of the special prosecutor’s office, which investigates crime committed by police, started a preliminary investigation into how Staaf was appointed and whether that was affected by the relationship she had with Löfving. 

What relationship did Staaf have with Löfving?

Staaf was appointed intelligence chief at the Swedish police National Operative Unit (NOA) in 2015 at a time when Löfving was NOA’s chief. This preliminary work never led to a full investigation as the prosecutor judged there was no reason to consider that a crime had been committed. 

Staaf has told TV4 that she had only had a “superficial relationship” with Löfving at the time. 

“And by that I mean a superficial relationship. Full stop,” she said. “It wasn’t any sort of a relationship and it never became a relationship. It has not been a secret relationship, and it has absolutely not been a close one.”

She has told Dagens Nyheter that she had had a “private but superficial relationship”, which had not yet begun at the time Löfving appointed her to the role. 

What has happened over the last few days? 

On Sunday, Anders Thornberg, head of the Swedish police, appointed an external investigator to carry out an in-depth study of the scandal, who will report on April 28th next year. 

Then on Monday, the prosecutor’s office announced that they had launched a formal investigation into Löfving for suspected “grave misuse of office”. 

“It’s because of the new information in the reports, in the media, and also things which we already knew about which are taking on a slightly different meaning in the light of the other information which has come forward,” said Bengt Åsbäck, who is leading the investigation. 

As a result, Thornberg announced on Monday afternoon that Löfving was being suspended as Stockholm police chief, with his deputy, Mattias Andersson, taking over the role. 

In a statement to TT, Löfving said he welcomed the investigation so that “everyone can get the answers that they are looking for”.

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