Italian police said they have broken-up an international operation to kidnap children involved in custody battles and whisk them back to Europe.
They arrested four people who they said were involved with a security company that charged tens of thousands of euro to recover children in contested custody cases.
Police said the conspiracy involved former special forces soldiers who, armed with weapons, tasers and pepper spray, launched operations to kidnap children given in custody to one parent to reunite them with the other.
The syndicate employed "contractors, for the most part veterans of special corps from the armed forces, ready to offer their operational skills to whoever was willing to pay them handsomely enough", police said.
Larysa Moskalenko won a bronze medal at the Seoul Olympics, but in 1993 moved to Sicily where she now runs a luxury boat rental business.
She allegedly hired out powerful speedboats that were used to recover children from countries in North Africa and bring them to Italy, from where they were reunited with their parents in other European countries.
Ms Moskalenko (50) was arrested on Thursday by police in Palermo, Sicily, along with two boat captains, Antonio Barazza and Sebastiano Calabrese, and another local man, Luigi Cannistraro.
Arrest warrants were issued for Per Ake Helgesson, reportedly a former member of the French Foreign Legion, and Daniel Bakke, two Swedish employees of ABP World Group, a Norwegian security company with offices in the UK, Cyprus and the Middle East.
They have been in prison in Tunisia for more than a year after being arrested last November in connection with a plot to help a Norwegian woman recover her daughter from her Tunisian husband.
The month before, they had been more successful – a child was taken from a Tunisian man, transported to Sicily by speedboat and then reunited with its mother in Norway. The firm charged up to €250,000 for such operations. A warrant was also issued for Martin Waage, the chief executive officer of the security firm, which specialises in what it calls "parental child abduction cases".
The firm claims it only offers assistance in locating and recovering children who have been taken, in defiance of court orders, to other countries by estranged partners.
"ABP is dedicated to assisting those parents who need help in locating, rescuing and returning their abducted children home safely," it said. (©Daily Telegraph, London)