Mother fights dynasty in Spain for son

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The Independent Online
A WOMAN from London is battling to win back her young son from members of one of Spain's most influential families who took the boy away from her.

Joanna Atfield fell for Daniel Mazin, a talented and fascinating Spanish businessman. She moved in with him and they had a baby, now aged two and a half. The relationship, always stormy, faltered during the pregnancy and collapsed soon after the birth.

Now Mr Mazin wants sole charge of the child and to stop Ms Atfield seeing him. On 23 October, in what she says was a carefully planned operation, Mr Mazin took their son out of nursery school in Madrid and she has not seen or spoken to the boy since. She says her struggle to keep her son in her life is "psychological torture".

Mr Mazin is arguing, through his lawyers, that Ms Atfield is mentally unstable and an unfit mother. Devastated and vulnerable in a foreign land, she fears losing her son for ever.

On 2 December she went to court to seek interim measures to get her son back until the question of legal custody is resolved, but the judge adjourned the hearing for social and psychological reports.

Ms Atfield, 34, says the odds are stacked against her because Spanish law gives the father equal claim, irrespective of which parent is the main carer, and because while she comes from a modest home near King's Cross, the wealthy and discreet Mazin family is one of the most powerful in Spain.

Daniel Mazin's father, Max, is leader of the country's Jewish community, a pioneer of Spain's entrepreneurs' association, and a major shareholder in a big hotel chain and a clutch of property companies. The family is linked by marriage and friendship to Spanish nobility and members of Jose Maria Aznar's conservative government.

Until shortly before he took their son, Daniel Mazin worked for an old friend of his father's, the international commodities millionaire Marc Rich. Mr Rich fled the United States for Switzerland after he was indicted by a Federal grand jury in New York in 1983 on charges of tax evasion, racketeering and participating in illegal oil deals with Iran.

"The Mazins are now saying I got pregnant deliberately to trap their son, which I didn't. It was an accident. But I knew immediately I wanted that child."

Lacking money and powerful friends, Ms Atfield says she feels "absolutely trapped. If I go quietly, I'll never see my son again. If I fight, I'm afraid they'll destroy me. It's like David and Goliath, they're out of my league."

She met the father of her child at a party in March 1994. "For me it was love at first sight," Ms Atfield said, describing Mr Mazin as a brilliant, volatile person overshadowed by his father.

When she became pregnant in September 1985, she accepted the family's proposal that she convert to Judaism.

"I tried everything to make the relationship work, and I have great respect for Daniel's father. I spent two hours every day with the rabbi in the synagogue that Max had built in Madrid. Then in December, I went to Jerusalem to complete the studies, and came back converted. But Daniel detested me the more pregnant I got."

In March 1997, nine months after the baby was born, Mr Mazin moved out of the home they shared to a flat nearby that his mother found in one of Madrid's most distinguished squares.

"He would come round, flanked by members of the family, insisting on taking my baby away for visits. It broke my soul."

Pressed by the Mazins, she attended a number of psychiatric clinics in London, New York and Arizona, recommended by Daniel Mazin's own psychiatrist. "I thought it would help improve matters with the family." The Mazins have submitted to court a damning report from one clinic as evidence that she is mentally unstable. "But I never wanted to go to these clinics. It's true I lost it sometimes and shouted and screamed. But it wasn't because I was ill, but because they were tormenting me."

Ms Atfield's lawyer, Jaime Sanz de Bremon, says the family obtained a medical report illicitly, without her authorisation. "This amounts to a violation of rights in Spain and it must be considered inadmissible evidence. The content of that report, describing her as psychotic and addicted to caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, is anyway open to question.

Joanna is not mentally unstable, according to an independent psychiatrist who has seen her. She got into a nervous state because her personal circumstances were made so unbearable."

In Spanish law, Mr Mazin has the legal right to take the child, Ms Atfield's lawyer said, "but in human terms, his action is completely unjust". Daniel Mazin's lawyer, Cristina Pena, said yesterday: "I'm bound by a code of professional secrecy and I can't talk to anyone unrelated to the case." Daniel Mazin did not return calls.