TOKYO – Japanese police released an American man held for 18 days on Thursday, pending an investigation into accusations he snatched his children from his ex-wife.
The case is among a growing number of custody disputes in Japan that involve one foreign parent. Japanese law allows only one parent to be a custodian — almost always the mother — leaving many divorced fathers without access to their children until they are grown.
While prosecutors have not pressed charges against Christopher Savoie, they haven't yet dropped the case either, and an investigation is continuing, said police official Kiyonori Tanaka in the southern Japanese city of Yanagawa. They decided to release him on grounds that he was not a flight risk, he said.
Savoie, 38, of Franklin, Tennessee, was arrested Sept. 28 after his Japanese ex-wife, Noriko, called police to say he grabbed their two children, ages 8 and 6, as she was walking them to school, forced them into a car and drove off.
Savoie's current wife, Amy, was awakened by a telephone call at her home in Franklin early Thursday and answered to hear her husband's voice.
"'Hello, my love, I'm out,"' were his first words, Amy Savoie told The Associated Press.
She said the couple had only a few minutes to talk, and it isn't yet clear when her husband would be coming home.
"We've been able to speak, but there's so much to talk about," she said. "This is all about him coming home."
The Fukuoka District Prosecutors Office refused to comment on the Savoie case. But a suspect with a pending investigation is released on the condition he or she consents to undergo further questioning. No bail is involved in a pre-indictment release. Police said he is not under surveillance, but it was unclear if he was allowed to leave the country.
Prosecutors said Savoie has told them he regretted breaking Japanese law and promised them that he would never repeat the mistake, according to Kyodo News agency. Savoie also told prosecutors that he planned to resolve the custody dispute with his ex-wife through dialogue, it reported.
Savoie's Japanese lawyer Tadashi Yoshino was not immediately available for comment.
The family had lived in Japan from 2001 and 2008 and moved to the U.S. in 2008. The couple was divorced in Tennessee in January 2009, and Noriko Savoie was given primary custody.
In August, she brought the children to Japan without telling her husband. U.S. court has since issued a warrant for her arrest.
Police said that Noriko Savoie and her children are staying with her parents in Yanagawa, but they have refused to talk to the media. A
U.S. Consulate spokeswoman Tracy Taylor declined to comment on details of his release, but added that her understanding was that he would not be indicted.
"We are pleased to hear that he was released, and we are hopeful that we can work with the Japanese government to come to a long term solution on this problem," Taylor said. "This problem meaning the issue of international child abduction."
Japan's single-parent custody policy has begun to raise concern abroad, following a recent spate of incidents involving Japanese mothers bringing their children back to their native land and refusing to let their foreign ex-husbands visit them.
The United States, Canada, Britain and France have urged Japan to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. The convention, signed by 81 countries, seeks to ensure that custody decisions are made by the courts of a country of abducted children's original residence and that the rights of access of both parents are protected.
Tokyo has argued that signing the convention may not protect Japanese women and their children from abusive foreign husbands, but Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada recently said officials were reviewing the matter.
Savoie could face up to five years in prison if convicted of the crime of kidnapping minors, police said.