King County prosecutors contend Chie Kawabata left the country earlier this year with her 5-year-old son, Maximus, despite court orders requiring her to keep the child in the United States. Kawabata has been charged with custodial interference, a kidnapping-related felony.
Writing the court, Deputy Prosecutor Benjamin Santos contends Kawabata has completely cut off contact with her son's father, Vancouver, B.C., resident Kris Morness, and has no intention of returning the child.
"The defendant has ignored the conditions of the parenting plan and simply defied the court's last order," Santos told the court. "It appears the defendant has made arrangements to move all of her belongings to Japan. There is little reason to believe this move is not permanent."
Santos went on to contend the Maximus may be in danger.
Kawabata, 46, is the fourth Japanese mother in recent years to be charged in King County with taking children to Japan in violation of court orders. Because Japan has not ratified the leading international treaty on the issue, U.S. authorities are effectively blocked from returning the kidnapped children.
According to charging papers, Kawabata and Morness divorced in 2012. While Maximus lived primarily with Kawabata, the parenting plan mandated that either parent receive permission before taking Maximus out of the country.
In late 2012, Kawabata asked for a court order allowing her to take her son to Japan. King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel denied her request in January, finding in part that "the detrimental effects of relocation outweigh the benefits."
Morness learned Kawabata was missing in late July after his son didn't show up for a weekend visitation. At his request, Kirkland police went to the woman's home and found she'd moved out.
As it turned out, Kawabata and the boy flew to Japan on July 26. She had a one-way ticket.
In an email, Kawabata admitted she took the boy to Osaka, a Kirkland detective told the court.
"The torment I have endured in recent years have left me emotionally ruined and forced my hands to take this step that I wish I did not have to take," Kawabata wrote in an email to her ex-husband, according to charging papers.
Since her disappearance, Morness has launched a website describing his ex as a "senior HR manager/child abductor." He's also posted court documents supporting the claims made by police - chiefly that Kawabata had no authority to run off with Maximus.
In recent years, U.S. authorities have seen an increase in the number of international custodial child abductions. Watchdogs on the issue say there are currently more than 1,000 such open cases involving U.S. parents whose children have been taken overseas.
Unlike the United States and 80 other countries, the Japanese government has not ratified the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. The 29-year-old United Nations accord requires that member countries honor custody agreements made outside their borders unless doing so threatens the child involved.
In addition to Kawabata, prosecutors in King County have charged three other Japanese women with kidnapping their own children. None have answered the charges against them.
Most recently, prosecutors charged former Seattle resident Ryoko Fukuda with absconding with her daughter the day she was supposed to hand over the girl's Japanese passport. According to charging documents filed in Aug. 2012, the girl's father rushed to Sea-Tac Airport in an attempt to retrieve her. Prosecutors say Fukuda and the child were already flying to Japan.
Michiyo Imoto Morehouse, previously of Bellevue, was charged with the same crime in 2010 after fleeing the country with her son. Her ex-husband had been awarded sole custody of the child.
In 2009, another former Seattle resident - Mayumi Ogawa - fled the country weeks after a King County Superior Court judge approved a parenting plan stating that her son would split his time between his parents, according to charging papers. The boy's father has since been awarded sole control of the child.
Kawabata, like the rest of the women, remains at large. Prosecutors have requested that she be jailed if apprehended.