US & Canada

US 'kidnap' parents transferred from Cuba to Florida

Joshua and Sharyn Hakken undated combination picture
Image caption Joshua and Sharyn Hakken had lost custody of their two sons Cole and Chase

A US couple accused of kidnapping their two sons from their grandparents and fleeing to Cuba by boat have been transferred to a Florida jail.

Joshua and Sharyn Hakken had been handed over to the US police by Cuban authorities, officials said.

US authorities say Mr Hakken took Cole, four, and Chase, two, from his mother-in-law's Florida home after she was awarded custody of them last week.

Mr Hakken lost custody after being charged with marijuana possession.

Police said he also allegedly tried to remove the children from a foster home at gunpoint.

TV footage on Wednesday showed the couple arriving in the US in handcuffs, AFP news agency reported.

The transfer of the pair to Florida occurred despite there being no extradition treaty between the US and Cuba.

'False imprisonment'

The family had been staying in their boat at the Hemingway Marina near the Cuban capital Havana.

According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's department, Mr Hakken broke into his mother-in-law's home in Tampa at around 06:00 local time (10:00 GMT) on 3 April, tied her up, stole her car and fled the house with the two boys.

The family left for Cuba from a dock in Madeira Beach, Florida, aboard the Salty, their recently purchased 25ft (7.6m) sailboat, investigators said.

Mr Hakken will face charges which include two counts of kidnapping, interfering with child custody, child neglect and false imprisonment.

Mrs Hakken will also face charges of kidnapping, interference with child custody and child neglect, according to AFP.

The agency quoted Tampa area sheriff David Gee as saying the couple also faces charges of fleeing to avoid prosecution.

Image caption The couple had recently purchased the boat they used to travel to Cuba

US diplomats in Havana said in a statement on Wednesday that the two children had left Cuba and "are safely on their way home".

The statement added: "We would like to express our appreciation to the Cuban authorities for their extensive co-operation to resolve this dangerous situation quickly."

In recent years Cuba has co-operated with the US and returned fugitives wanted on criminal charges.

In 1999, tensions flared between the Cold War rivals amid the custody battle over five-year-old Elian Gonzalez.

He was found hanging on to the inner tube of a tyre off the coast of Florida, after his mother and other relatives perished while fleeing Cuba for the US.

He was taken to live with relatives in Miami, but his father in Cuba demanded he be returned.

He was eventually sent back to Cuba in 2000 and, now a young man, has joined a military academy.

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