8-year-old girl kidnapped in France, found with mother in Switzerland

An eight-year-old girl who was kidnapped in eastern France was found with her mother in Switzerland.

The girl was in good health after being discovered in a squat in an old factory in the border village of Sainte-Croix, French prosecutor François Pérain said. Her mother, Lola Montemaggi, was taken into Swiss police custody.

Officials say the mother ordered the abduction of the girl, of whom she no longer had custody, from her grandmother’s home.

The kidnappers approached the grandmother pretending to be child protection officers. One of the suspected kidnappers had waited in the car while two others committed the crime.

Mr Pérain said investigators had determined that the mother and daughter entered Switzerland on the day of the kidnapping. Three of the men and the mother crossed the French-Swiss border on foot along with the child.

On the other side, another man picked up the mother and daughter and drove them in a car to a hotel in Estavayer-le-Lac, near the border with France. They then went to the nearby town of Neuchâtel, where a woman hosted them for another night. On the following day, Mr Pérain added, they were taken to the factory.

When Swiss investigators arrived at the factory in two vans the mother did not resist arrest. The mother is expected to soon be the subject of a European arrest warrant for her extradition to France. The girl is being cared for by a psychologist and a social worker before being reunited with her grandmother.

Custody of the girl was given to her maternal grandmother last January after her mother reportedly told a family judge she wanted to “live on the margins of society”.

Five men have been charged with abducting a minor, including the three who allegedly carried out the kidnapping, and four are in custody.

Mr Pérain said the abduction had been carried out like a “military operation”, and the “extremely well-prepared” kidnappers had even used a code name, “Operation Lima”. They were equipped with walkie-talkies, camping gear, fake licence plates and a budget of €3,000 to cover expenses.

The suspects allege they were asked over the internet to carry out the plot.