Court upholds punishment for Egyptian grandmother

Khalifa helped daughter take 2 sons out of U.S.

Anne Arundel

August 04, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The state's highest court upheld yesterday the convictions and sentence of a wealthy Egyptian woman for helping spirit a grandson to Egypt, a ruling likely to stop her from re-entering the United States but of no immediate help to the Millersville man seeking the return of his two sons.

Afaf N. Khalifa was paroled from her three-year sentence and deported to Egypt in May, where she joined her family, including an American-born daughter and the two grandsons she helped take to Egypt three years ago.

The unanimous ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals tinkered with details of the sentence and reaffirmed Maryland's right to pursue such cases.

But the goal of prosecuting Khalifa was to pressure the Egyptian family into returning Adam and Jason Shannon to their father, who won custody of the youngsters in 2001. Adam is now 7; Jason is 3. Instead, Khalifa, now 61, served about a year and a half behind bars.

"Unfortunately, the case doesn't help us in obtaining our principal goal, which was always from the very beginning to get the children back," Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said. "Had they agreed to get the children back when the court ordered custody to the father, we never would have prosecuted, we would not have extradited. We would have dropped the case."

Khalifa's lawyer, William C. Brennan Jr., had asked the court to erase the convictions and order a new trial.

He argued that the penalty should be capped at one year because the law did not call for additional prison time until October 2001, a few weeks after Khalifa and her daughter, Nermeen Shannon, fled to Egypt with the boys. Brennan said yesterday that he will consider asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal on that issue.

A three-year prison term for a felony would make it "extremely improbable" for Khalifa to succeed in her bid to obtain U.S. citizenship, he said. He said federal officials also most likely would not grant her a visa.

Brennan said he had not read the 40-page opinion and could not comment further.

Michael and Nermeen Shannon were estranged at the time and have since divorced. Michael Shannon had custody of Adam on Aug. 25, 2001, when Nermeen Shannon and her mother flew with Adam and Jason to Cairo. Nermeen Shannon had custody of Jason, but an Anne Arundel County judge gave the father custody of Jason three weeks later.

Khalifa was convicted last year of 10 counts of helping her daughter illegally leave the United States with Adam. A judicial panel reduced Khalifa's 10-year prison term and $15,000 fine to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Khalifa, a citizen of Egypt, and her husband own property in San Diego, where she was arrested.

"There is a little bit of justice involved here," said Michael Shannon. "This decision means goodbye New York shopping sprees, goodbye Southern California, legally at least."

Shannon said he hopes the ruling will help him in Egyptian courts, where his request to enforce the Anne Arundel County custody orders awaits court action.

He also filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit in Anne Arundel Circuit Court against Khalifa and her family.

"It is going to make it tough for her to testify in the civil proceedings," he said.

Shannon said his former wife has told him to come to Egypt, but he fears for his safety.

There is an arrest warrant for Nermeen Shannon. Anne Arundel prosecutors have said they will move against her if she returns to the United States.

She told The Sun last year that her sons were "adapting well" in Egypt.

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