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Child snatcher finds no shortage of work

Private eye specialises in recovering children at centre of custody disputes

Lock up your children, The Retriever is in town.
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Keith Schafferius is a private eye who specialises in snatching children, though he prefers the word "retrieve". Schafferius, who works for aggrieved parents in custody disputes, is in Auckland attending the conference of the World Association of Detectives.

The Brisbane-based private investigator was elected to the association's board this week and is one of its most colourful characters. He is known as The Retriever because of his work and the title of his book but, he says, he has another nickname. "They called me Mr Valium because I'm always calm and unflappable."

Schafferius, 74, is softly spoken, frost-haired, grandfatherly, a contrast to work that has seen him in a "a few scraps" and spending a week in jail in Aden in Yemen.

Schafferius, who has done "retrievals" for 35 years, always take his client - the parent - with him on missions. "Otherwise," he says, "it is kidnapping".

The children have mostly been taken away against custody orders, occasionally a parent has simply left the country with them.

But in countries the children have been taken to his methods are not always legal. Documentation may not be all it seems, borders are seldom crossed conventionally.

The Hague Convention says a child should be returned to the country in which they had lived the previous two years. Time is often a factor. Sometimes, says Schafferius, who spent six years in the Royal Australian Air Force, it is best to retrieve the child and sort out the legal arguments later.

Success is in the planning. He uses former CIA and military staff, meticulously plans getaway routes and regularly pays bribes.

Schafferius returned this month from a successful mission to Turkey where the target was a 4-year-old boy. The parents had split, the Australian mother was granted custody by the Turkish courts but forbidden from taking the child out of the country. She didn't want to spend her life in Turkey or live without her son and hired Schafferius to plan their escape.

Leaving via border posts, such as an airport, was not an option. A Greek trader with a fast boat was hired to whisk them the 6km from the Turkish coast to a neighbouring Greek Island. "A 10-minute crossing and then we flew back to Australia."

Not all jobs are as straightforward. The child often has to be found, sometimes doesn't immediately recognise the parent due to length of separation or want to go.

He rates a job in Yemen as his worst. He was arrested on arrival, held in jail for a week and deported for arriving without a visa (the flight attendant he had paid to arrange entry ripped him off). He returned using a second passport with two American colleagues and the mother posing as film-makers, and traced the children, a boy and a girl, to a house patrolled by armed guards.

The mission had to be postponed when the American mother became seriously ill and was hospitalised in the United Arab Emirates. The intention was to go back when the mother recovered, says Schafferius.

"She was to contact me but she didn't. She met a British Special Services guy in Abu Dhabi. They went back to Yemen together and neither has been seen since."

Retrieval missions don't come cheap. Researching a case costs a nominal fee, recovery missions a minimum of US$60,000.

His most costly was US$1.4 million for the retrieval from the Philippines of a child abducted in Australia from his Swedish father. Costs, covered by Swedish authorities, included $120,000 paid to an army general.

"From the day I paid him, we went everywhere in the President's helicopter."

Bribes smooth the way in many countries, Schafferius says.

He has four cases in progress and doesn't contemplate retirement. He has attended the weddings of children he has "counter-abducted" and the 21st of a girl he grabbed back from a cult. It is rare, satisfying work that may even be addictive.

Don't be fooled by his benign appearance - Mr Valium isn't really cut out for the quiet life.

- NZ Herald

Executive Secretary - Shared Parenting Council of Australia
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I wish I could afford him..........
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