Longform

Dash to Dubai: An FBI Fugitive Explains Why She Kidnapped Her Daughter and Fled Fort Lauderdale

Page 5 of 6

Delbecq would seem to be an amalgam of profile five, which includes dual citizens in a failed marriage, and profile six, which includes parents who feel alienated by the legal system and have support from their family. She has both U.S. and Belgian citizenship, her marriage to Dahm didn't last half a year, and her parents provided ample moral and financial support.

The State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs has an entire division dedicated to international abductions. It coordinates with the FBI, which often gets called in after a grand jury indicts the abducting parent and federal warrants are issued. How swiftly things move after a fugitive parent is found — or if they move at all — hinges on whether the country is a signatory of a treaty known as the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

"Because of the complexity with family abductions, they do take longer to resolve," says Maureen Heads of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. "With international abductions, it largely depends on the country and the circumstances... When you're looking at countries that are non-Hague and don't have treaties, it becomes a real challenge. People ask me all the time what the return rate is, but it solely depends on the country."

Japan has never returned an abducted U.S. child as a result of civil litigation or law enforcement proceedings. Brazil has likewise refused to cooperate with U.S. authorities; the prolonged case of Sean Goldman captivated a worldwide audience in 2009 after his wife fled with their son and died shortly thereafter. Muslim countries governed by sharia law pose a unique set of circumstances. According to Heads, Morocco is the only such country that's attempted to become a member of the Hague convention.

The United Arab Emirates has no extradition agreement with the United States. Still, there was one case of the UAE's returning an abducted child to the rightful parent. But resolving the case cost the family four years, seven trips from a lawyer, and $250,000 in legal fees.

Ken Farnsworth, an assistant state attorney in Broward County who works on extraditions, says countries such as the UAE might decide to extradite on a case-by-case basis while taking into account cultural factors that are disregarded under U.S. rule of law. "Some countries make you lay out the whole case: the likelihood of conviction, how much time this person would be looking at," he says. "If it's the mother, some countries might say she has a right to her child and they wouldn't consider the abduction a crime... There are unwritten laws in some countries. Maybe one parent has more sway."

Presumably, Philippe Delbecq had a fair amount of sway with authorities in the United Arab Emirates. As chief training pilot for Etihad Airways, a multibillion-dollar airline created under royal decree, he's the man responsible for ensuring that every pilot knows what he's doing.

Delbecq says that near the end of August 2011, after she'd been in Dubai for a year, she, her daughter, and her parents were summoned to meet with authorities with the Criminal Investigation Department for a day of interrogation and fact-finding. They took a tense drive through the desert heat toward downtown Abu Dhabi, the capital city. "We felt a little bit nervous," Delbecq concedes. "Of course, we expected it."

Upon arriving at the facility, the family was split up and led to separate interrogation rooms. Because legal proceedings are conducted in Arabic, Delbecq did not understand what was being said, nor could she explain herself. Her lawyer was left to convey the angst his client experienced back in Florida. Delbecq says that although the day of questioning was nerve-racking, it didn't take long to convince the judge that the family was justified in violating the custody agreement and fleeing the U.S.

"At the end of the day, this judge of Interpol affairs dismissed us," she claims. "We were never apprehended. We were never put in jail... Within 24 hours, we were home, safe and sound."


Today, Dahm claims he's a financial consultant and runs a business called Von Dahm Consulting. A quick Google search also shows that he created a blog called Christopher Dahm Scam Tips, which hasn't been updated since September 2011. There's little to any useful information on the website, but it's a crafty way of suppressing his criminal past in Google's search algorithm.

Dahm has also set up a trust in his daughter's name to help cover mounting legal fees, which he estimates at $50,000 to $100,000. On the website helpsavegabby.com, he emphasizes, "Under Federal Law EVERY dollar that gets donated... gets used for lawyers." The address to send donations is his home in Pompano. Because the trust is not registered with Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, nor is it registered in the IRS' database of tax-exempt charitable organizations, it is difficult to confirm how much has been donated and whether it has indeed all been put toward legal fees. Dahm says it's not technically a charitable organization and is thus not required by law to be registered.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Sweeney