The Custody Battle And Unsolved Death Of Candice Cohen-Ahnine

Candice Cohen-Ahnine was just 35 years old when she fell to her death under some very suspicious circumstances, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. The case made headlines worldwide due to the complexities surrounding Candice Cohen-Ahnine, her ex-husband, and their young daughter, Aya. 

In 1998, Cohen-Ahnine met Saudi Arabian Prince Sattam al-Saud in London at Browns Nightclub (via Sky News). JTA reports she was 18 years old when they met, and although they came from different religious backgrounds, they started a romantic relationship. At first, she said the Prince showered her with affection (via The Jewish Chronicle). He gave her expensive gifts and took her on glamorous vacations, and they spent lots of time together in Paris.

Albawaba reports that they welcomed a daughter, who goes by Aya or Haya, in November 2001. For the first five years after her birth, the family stuck together. But in 2006, they separated. There were several reasons for the couple's separation. Al-Saud reportedly told Cohen-Ahnine that he was going to marry his cousin, and she could become his second wife. Cohen-Ahnine refused that offer, and the two separated shortly afterward. 

Cohen-Ahnine was accused of a crime punishable by death

Humanium reports that Cohen-Ahnine and Aya fled to Paris after being subjected to domestic violence, but after tensions between her and al-Saud cooled, she agreed to bring Aya back to Saudi Arabia. That's when things took a nasty turn. Cohen-Ahnine was isolated in a dirty room, without access to food or water, and her passport was taken from her. Aya reportedly tried to find her mother to bring her food, but she was stopped before she could contact her mother, and was then beaten.

The Jewish Chronicle reports that al-Saud accused Cohen-Ahnine of rejecting Islam and converting to Judaism. In Saudi Arabia, this crime is punishable by death. Cohen-Ahnine only escaped Riyadh Palace in 2008 because a maid accidentally left her door unlocked (via Albawaba). Unfortunately, she was not able to take Aya with her.

Aya remained at the Palace, where she and her mother now talked only on the telephone (via JTA). After mother and daughter were separated, Cohen-Ahnine continued to raise alarms about how her child was being raised. Per the Sunday Times, she became worried after seeing Facebook photos of Aya dressed in a niqab and handling guns.

After escaping, Cohen-Ahnine spent years seeking help from the French government and even contacted the French president and the foreign ministry (via The Jewish Chronicle). And she reportedly tried to call Aya every day (via Le Parisien).

Give me back my daughter!

Cohen-Ahnine wrote and published a book in 2011, entitled, "Rendez-moi Ma Fille!" or "Give Me Back My Daughter!" In the book, Cohen-Ahnine documented her life with al-Saud since she was 18, including her imprisonment in Saudi Arabia. Cohen-Ahnine's book description said that al-Saud caused her to "suffer from his influence, then his violence."

After Cohen-Ahnine returned to France without Aya, she eventually began dating again (via Le Parisien). She married a man named Alain Cucumel in December 2011 in a small ceremony at the town hall, but Cohen-Ahnine wanted to wait until she and Aya were reunited to have a religious wedding celebration. 

In January 2012, a judge ruled that Prince Sattam al-Saud must return Aya to Candice Cohen-Ahnine, and pay about $12,000 each month to support the 11-year-old child (via SkyNews). Per Humanium, Cohen-Ahnine was given "exclusive parental authority" over Aya. The courts also ordered that Aya's main residence was to be with her mother in France.

Humanium reports that per French law, "both father and mother must maintain a personal relationship with the child and respect the child's relationship with the other parent." But if the family cannot reach an agreement about their child's living situation, then a family court judge will have to step in to decide what is best for the child.

Ongoing fights over child custody

Prince Sattam al-Saud was ordered by a French court to pay child support to Cohen-Ahnine, and return Aya to her mother's custody (via Albawaba). He scoffed at the notion, saying, "If need be, I'll go like [Osama] bin Laden and hide in the mountains with Aya."

According to the Sunday Times, al-Saud defended his custody over his daughter, and said, "France hasn't got a right to take her back. She is a Saudi citizen and a princess. They cannot oblige a princess to leave this country." He denied ever kidnapping Aya and said she was free to come and go whenever she wanted.

JTA reports that al-Saud could have been arrested for refusing to comply with the court's orders. But al-Saud explained that he kept his daughter in Saudi Arabia because her life was already established there. In 2012, he even told a French publication, "I remind you that my daughter is a descendant of the royal Saudi family."

Cohen-Ahnine said she felt 'threatened'

In August 2012, life seemed to be improving for Cohen-Ahnine and Aya (via Insider). After lawyers on both sides negotiated, Cohen-Ahnine was supposed to finally visit Aya in September 2012. Her lawyer said that communications had improved, and commended the visit as a big step towards a peaceful reunion. He said it was "already a positive first step, because getting to open the doors to the prince's palace was very complex, and required the work of a huge team of people."

But in the days leading up to her death, Cohen-Ahnine told some of her relatives, "I feel threatened," per SkyNews. Just days later, she fell from a fourth-story apartment in Paris. She did not survive her injuries and died at Pitie-Salpetriere hospital. Police officials reported that she may have been "trying to escape something dangerous."

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Cohen-Ahnine's lawyer, Laurence Tarquiny-Charpentier, said, "What I can tell you is that it wasn't a suicide." She said Cohen-Ahnine was actually very excited to see her daughter again in less than a month.

Accusations and allegations

Candice Cohen-Ahnine's case took an unexpected turn in the years following her death. Her husband, Alain Cucumel, shed light on her final moments (via Le Parisien). He said Cohen-Ahnine had been stressed the night of her death, and was drinking champagne. After she went out to buy water from a local store, Cucumel said she became very drunk and started fighting with him. He helped Cohen-Ahnine to bed, and then left the room. Cucumel says that neighbors saw her trying to walk outside on a railing to move between windows in the same room, and she slipped and fell. Cucumel vowed to sue for custody of Aya in order to keep Cohen-Ahnine's memory alive.

Per Paris Match, Jean-Claude Elfassi claims that there is more to the story. He says that neighbors testified to hearing a "violent argument" between the husband and wife.

In an interview with Le Parisien, Cucumel mentioned that his wife had been encouraged to drink alcohol and use cocaine at some recent parties. There were multiple unnamed substances reportedly found in Cohen-Ahnine's blood on the night she died (via Paris Match). Cohen-Ahnine had been hospitalized twice in the months prior to her death for unspecified "crises."

Cucumel was arrested for "psychological violence resulting in death" in June 2013, but was subsequently released (via Paris Match). Aya, now an adult, remained in Saudi Arabia with al-Saud and as of March 2022, no one has been prosecuted for Candice Cohen-Ahnine's suspicious death.