- The Washington Times - Friday, December 25, 2009

RIO DE JANEIRO | A 9-year-old boy at the center of a five-year custody battle was turned over to his American father Thursday in a scene as tumultuous as the legal fight itself, with the youngster forced to squeeze though a jostling crowd of reporters and photographers.

Soon afterward, a smiling Sean Goldman was back in his father’s arms, talking about basketball and how much snow there was back in New Jersey. Then father and son boarded a private jet chartered by NBC and took off for an undisclosed location in the United States.

“It is now time for our new beginning, the rebirth of our family at such a special time of the year,” the boy’s father, David Goldman of Tinton Falls, N.J., wrote in a letter read to reporters after his departure.

The reunion ended an epic battle that pitted Sean’s father against the boy’s Brazilian stepfather, who had cared for Sean since his mother died last year. The dispute reached the highest levels of the U.S. and Brazilian governments and strained relations between the two countries.

“Today, the abduction has ended,” said Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, who was with Sean’s father in Brazil and supported him.

But the boy’s maternal grandmother, Silvana Bianchi, said: “My heart is empty and broken because our love is missing. To take the boy on Christmas Day is a heinous crime.”

The last act in the drama played out partly in public view. Wearing a gold Brazil Olympic T-shirt, a tearful Sean was walked a block to the American Consulate, surrounded by his stepfather, other members of the family and their attorney.

Once spotted by the more than 100 reporters and cameramen waiting for their arrival, the group had to drag, shove and push its way about 50 yards to the consulate’s front door.

Orna Blum, the U.S. Embassy spokeswoman, said the Brazilian family was offered the same secure entrance to the consulate garage that Mr. Goldman used, which would have shielded the child from view, and that she had no idea why they decided to walk the boy a block through Rio’s streets.

Mr. Smith said the Brazilian family’s attorney told him it was their way of protesting the handover.

Once inside, the mop-haired boy calmed down after a few minutes, Mr. Smith said. Father and son were reunited in private and were soon eating hamburgers and talking, the congressman added.

Sean had lived in Brazil since Mr. Goldman’s ex-wife, Bruna Bianchi, brought him to her native country for what was supposed to be a two-week vacation in 2004. She stayed, divorced Mr. Goldman and remarried, and Mr. Goldman began legal efforts to get Sean back.

After Bianchi died last year in childbirth, her husband, Paulo Lins e Silva, a prominent divorce lawyer, continued the legal fight and won temporary custody.

When the boy’s handover was blocked last week, the U.S. Senate put a hold on a trade deal worth about $2.75 billion a year to Brazil. President Obama also discussed the matter with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

On Tuesday, Brazil’s chief justice finally cleared the way for Mr. Goldman to take his son home.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was thrilled that father and son had been reunited.

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