A Slovene man is accused of spiriting away his 4-year-old daughter in a custody battle-turned-missing girl case that has captivated this small European country.
The girl, Klara Kaker, has not been seen since March. Her father, Bostjan Kaker, is now on trial on charges of abducting her, but he won't divulge her whereabouts, saying only that she is "somewhere safe."
Police have released Klara's photo to the media to help the search, a rare move defying the country's laws that strictly protect the identity of minors. But, the picture of a wide-eyed little girl in a blue sweater, with short bangs and shoulder-length brown hair, has so far produced no results.
Kaker alleges his daughter was abused by her maternal grandfather. He has been fighting last year's decision by the court in the northern town of Slovenj Gradec to give custody of the girl to her mother.
The courts have rejected claims of abuse, but Kaker insists the authorities were ignoring evidence and favoring mothers in custody battles.
Klara's parents separated in 2008, and the girl mostly stayed with her father while the custody case was deliberated upon in court. After he lost, Kaker evaded attempts by police to take the girl away. He was arrested in June, but has refused to say where she is.
Slovenes have closely watched the drama as it has unfolded over the past year.
Kaker initially launched a media campaign to argue his side in the custody dispute _ setting up a support group, appearing on local television and even printing T-shirts that urged public backing. A children's rights group called 'Action' also campaigned aggressively for Kaker in the dispute.
That has won him some public sympathy and triggered a debate about the custody issues. A parliamentary committee discussed the case in October, and a conservative party demanded that the custody ruling be reviewed.
But public support has shifted since the girl went missing and local media have speculated that the girl is no longer in Slovenia.
"I have not seen my daughter since last year, I am afraid she would not recognize me," Klara's mother, Aleksandra Tuksar, said at an emotional press conference last month.
"I don't know if she is still alive," she said.
Klara's grandfather told reporters at the same presser conference that he had done the girl no harm. Antun Tuksar added that had passed a polygraph test. "We just wish to know that she is well," he added.
Slovenia's official STA news agency has reported that during the investigation police noted the girl feared her grandfather, but found no evidence of abuse.
The trial court said Wednesday it expects to issue a verdict in the case on Dec. 22. But analyst Sonja Merljak, who has followed the case closely, suggested that the state should have acted far sooner to protect the girl.
"How can someone be allowed to ignore the court rulings simply because he does not believe in them?" Merljak said. "How is it possible that no one knows where the girl is?"
Jovana Gec contributed to this report.