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Cuba turning over Florida couple and children

Wednesday - 4/10/2013, 5:32am  ET

This photo combination made from undated images provided by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office shows 35-year-old Joshua Michael Hakken, left, and his wife, 34-year-old Sharyn Patricia Hakken. Cuba says it will turn over to the United States the Florida couple who allegedly kidnapped their own children from the mother’s parents and fled by boat to Havana. (AP Photo/Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office)

PAUL HAVEN
Associated Press

HAVANA (AP) -- Cuba on Tuesday said it will hand over to the United States a Florida couple who allegedly kidnapped their two young sons from the mother's parents and fled by boat to Havana.

U.S. diplomats in Havana said in a statement early Wednesday that the two children had left Cuba and "are safely on their way home." The statement did not mention whether the parents had left for the U.S.

"We would like to express our appreciation to the Cuban authorities for their extensive cooperation to resolve this dangerous situation quickly," said the statement released by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

Earlier Tuesday, Foreign Ministry official Johana Tablada told The Associated Press in a written statement that Cuba had informed U.S. authorities of the country's decision to turn over Joshua Michael Hakken, his wife Sharyn, and their two young boys.

U.S. authorities say Joshua Michael Hakken kidnapped his sons, 4-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase, from his mother-in-law's house north of Tampa. The boys' maternal grandparents had been granted permanent custody of the boys last week.

Tabladadid not say when the handover would occur, but reporters saw Sharyn Hakken leaving the dock of Havana's Hemingway Marina in the back seat of a Cuban government vehicle and workers later said that all four Hakkens had been taken away.

An AP reporter spotted the family earlier Tuesday beside their boat at the marina. A man who resembled photographs of Joshua Michael Hakken yelled out "Stop! Stay back!" as the reporter approached, but there was no outward sign of tension or distress between the family members.

Tablada said the Foreign Ministry had informed U.S. diplomats on the island "of the Cuban government's willingness to turn over ... U.S. citizens Joshua Michael Hakken, his wife Sharyn Patricia and their two minor sons."

She said Cuba tipped the State Department off to the Hakkens' presence on Sunday and that from that moment "diplomatic contact has been exchanged and a professional and constant communication has been maintained."

The U.S. and Cuba share no extradition agreement and the island nation is also not a signatory of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an international treaty for governmental cooperation on such cases.

Cuba has harbored U.S. fugitives in the past, though most of those cases date back to the 1960s and '70s, when the island became a refuge for members of the Black Panthers and other militant groups. More recently, dozens of Cuban Medicare fraud fugitives in the U.S. have tried to escape prosecution by returning to the island.

But Cuba has also cooperated with U.S. authorities in returning several criminal fugitives in recent years, including Leonard B. Auerbach in 2008. Auerbach was wanted in California on federal charges of sexually abusing a Costa Rican girl and possessing child pornography. He was deported.

In 2011, U.S. marshals flew to Cuba and took custody of two American suspects wanted in a New Jersey murder.

Hakken lost custody of his sons last year after a drug possession arrest in Louisiana and later tried to take the children from a foster home at gunpoint, authorities said. A warrant has been issued for his arrest on two counts of kidnapping; interference with child custody; child neglect; false imprisonment and other charges.

"My team and I working very hard to ensure safety for two Amcit kids," Conrad Tribble, the No. 2 U.S. diplomat on the island, said via Twitter later Tuesday, using a shorthand for "American citizens."

According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Hakken entered his mother-in-law's Florida house last Wednesday, tied her up and fled with his sons. Federal, state and local authorities searched by air and sea for a boat Hakken had recently bought. The truck Hakken, his wife and the boys had been traveling in was found Thursday, abandoned in Madeira Beach, Florida.

"He'll have to face in Hillsborough county the charges he has with the sheriff's office," spokeswoman Cristal Bermudez Nunez Nunez said. She said she did not know how the family would be returned or what will happen when they arrive on U.S. soil.

Terri Durdaller, a spokeswoman at the Florida Department of Children and Families, said it was not clear where the children will ultimately be placed.

"Louisiana is the ultimate decision maker on where these children will reside. It's likely they will be placed back in Florida with the grandmother," she said.

The family's flight to Cuba harkened back to the 1999 child custody case involving Elian Gonzalez, though unlike Gonzalez, the Hakkens had no apparent ties to the island.

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