Cuba to hand over U.S. couple accused of snatching their sons

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 09, 2013 3:09 PM
Cuba to hand over U.S. couple accused of snatching their sons

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba on Tuesday said an American accused of kidnapping his two young sons in Florida and fleeing with them by boat to the communist-led island would be turned over to U.S. authorities.

The foreign ministry announced the decision in a terse statement saying Joshua Michael Hakken, a fugitive from U.S. justice, would be handed over with wife Sharyn and their children.

Hakken had surfaced in Cuba on Tuesday and was holed up with his family at the Hemingway Marina near Havana.

Reuters and other media outlets had attempted to speak with Hakken when he appeared briefly before reporters to stow away gear and secure the hatch on a small blue and white sailboat named Salty at the marina.

But Hakken, a stocky man who was bearded and wearing shorts and a dark green baseball cap, shook his head 'no' when asked if would answer any questions.

He then disappeared into a nearby building which was roped off and plainclothes security guards equipped with walkie-talkies at the marina prevented journalists from asking any further questions.

The foreign ministry said Hakken had arrived at the marina on Sunday afternoon.

A State Department official said earlier that the United States was receiving "very good cooperation from the Cuban authorities" in the Hakken case and was providing "all appropriate assistance to the family."

Washington and Havana have no extradition agreement and tensions flared between the two Cold War enemies during the Elian Gonzalez child custody battle more than a decade ago. But there were few if any parallels between the Hakken case and Gonzalez saga, which involved a boy plucked from an inner tube off Florida after his mother and others drowned while fleeing Cuba. He was ultimately returned to his father in Cuba.

Hakken, who is wanted on two counts of kidnapping and other charges including interference with child custody, is accused of breaking into his mother-in-law's home north of Tampa, Florida, last Wednesday and tying her up with zip ties. He then fled with his sons, 4-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.

Hours later, Hakken, his wife, and the children left from a dock in Madeira Beach, Florida, aboard the Salty, their recently purchased 25-foot (7.6-meter) sailboat, investigators said.

Hakken knew long before he went to his mother-in-law's home that he and his wife had lost custody of the children, authorities said.

The boys wound up with their maternal grandmother after the Hakkens attended an "anti-government" rally in June in Louisiana, where police said they found Hakken in the family's hotel room with a gun, marijuana and knife, talking about a "journey to Armageddon," according to the Tampa Times newspaper.

Hakken was charged with marijuana possession and the boys were placed in a foster home, where Hakken later showed up armed with a gun, the Times quoted authorities as saying.

Louisiana officials then sent the boys to live in Tampa with their maternal grandmother Patricia Hauser.

Warrants issued in Hillsborough County, in addition to kidnapping and interfering with child custody, charges of child neglect, false imprisonment, burglary with battery and stealing Hauser's car.

(Additional reporting by Saundra Amrhein in Tampa; Editing by Tom Brown and Eric Walsh)