Papers forged in abduction case
Desperate mother and daughter flee to New Zealand. Matt Stewart and Andre Chumko report.
A Malaysian dad says his estranged wife abducted their only child by forging his signature and bringing her to New Zealand, alleging authorities were complicit in the saga.
But his wife claims she was fleeing a life of violence and abuse at his hands.
Rajinah Sellvagumaran admitted forging her husband Arvind’s signature to bring their daughter, 6, to New Zealand in 2016. A Malaysian court granted her full custody in June 2018 but Arvind is fighting to get the child back.
Immigration NZ says it became aware of the father’s objection on December 15 last year, more than a year after the child was brought here under false pretences, and confirmed it is investigating.
Any decision on the visa application needed careful consideration of all family circumstances, it says.
The Sunday Star-Times has seen a Malaysian police report from 2013 that details Sellvagumaran’s complaint that Arvind beat and strangled her, pulled her hair, verbally abused her, threw her into a glass window until it smashed and locked himself in a room with the daughter and refused to come out.
She is still legally married to him in Malaysia, and alleges he was abusive, and throughout their marriage forced her to give him money for drugs.
She alleges Arvind was beating them, which is why they came here. But he alleges she took the child illegally and the girl must be brought back.
A deportation liability notice for the daughter was served in March this year, but was later cancelled by Immigration after officials accepted there were good reasons it shouldn’t go ahead, documents seen by the Sunday Star-Times state. Sellvagumaran alleges her daughter is happy here, and doesn’t want to live with her father.
Arvind says his wife has no evidence of abuse. ‘‘She doesn’t have evidence such as medical report and pictures ... The police advised Rajinah verbally that she should not make false accusations because she could be charged,’’ he says.
‘‘Rajinah left [our daughter] for one year with me (from June 2015). She was establishing a relationship with her new partner during this time. If [our daughter] was scared of me, she wouldn’t have abandoned [her] for one whole year, no mother will do that if she was so concerned of the child’s safety.’’
Sellvagumaran first came to New Zealand alone in 2015, but brought her daughter back with her on a trip in 2016.
Her husband’s lawyer, Don McKay, says it is apparent New Zealand is a ‘‘safe haven’’ for abductors.
Malaysia – unlike New Zealand – is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction, which provides a legal process for the return of children in international custody disputes.
The convention assumes the courts in the country where the child usually lives are best able to make decisions about the child.
University of California, Berkeley domestic violence and international child custody expert Jeffrey Edleson says claims of abuse are often plausible.
Edleson says habitual residence, where a child is settled in one location over a year, is considered the least disruptive for the child, and their life and long-term wellbeing could be upset by a return to their home country.
‘‘She doesn’t have evidence such as medical report and pictures.’’ Arvind, above