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    Kidnap & Ransom

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    K&R in Europe

    3 תגובות   יום שישי , 20/11/09, 16:10

    When the USSR fell, only one type of Soviet institution was fully prepared for the nation's instant entry cutthroat world of international capitalism: the Russian mafia. By its very nature, crime is ruthlessly evolutionary: that which works profits, that which fails ceases to be.

     

    By now, savvy travelers and businesspersons know to be wary in places like Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Afghanistan. Long-standing kidnapping for ransom gangs have been preying on not only high-net-worth individuals, but also local businessmen of the middle class. Defensive mechanisms have evolved in these areas; armed guards, GPS alerts, armored cars and fortified homes. Behaviors have changed, with everyone from security-trained drivers to the owner of the local deli instinctively varying their routes to avoid the vulnerabilities of routine. Kidnappers have responded with increased sophistication, and by constantly lowering their qualifications for target selection. As the higher value targets become more risky (and expensive) to obtain, the gangs begin going for numerous low-value kidnappings over the increasingly difficult high profile kidnappings. As a result, the economy in these areas continues to deteriorate; anyone sticking their head above the poverty line is promptly preyed upon by the kidnapping gangs. The parasite is beginning to kill the host.

     

    This whole form of criminality must evolve or die. New hosts are needed who have yet to adapt to these methodologies.

     

    While Western Europe has of course been affected by the global economic downturn, it remains quite wealthy when compared to most of the world. Decades of relatively low crime and effective policing have led even wealthy Europeans to take a generally lax attitude towards personal security. In the past five years however, the crime situation in Europe has been shifting; criminal organizations formerly limited to Russia and Europe's Eastern fringes are making their presence felt in the West. Kidnapping for ransom, proven to be immensely lucrative by the criminal organizations of South America, is increasingly viewed at as a profit center for Eastern European gangs. Due to the comparatively weak precautions taken by most high-net-worth individuals in Europe, a single high-value kidnapping can net more for a European gang than dozens of quick-and-dirty South American kidnappings.

    In Bulgaria alone, police have reported at least 17 high-profile kidnappings for ransom since 2007. One of the highest profile cases involved Kiro Kirov, kidnapped from his home in March 2009. After 18 days of negotiations, Kirov was freed for a ransom of one million Euros (U.S. $1.5 million), down from the initial demand of 1.5 million Euros (U.S. $2.2 million).

    That ransom pales when compared to recent incidents in Greece. Even limiting it to the three most recent high profile kidnappings (affecting two shipping magnates and an industrialist) gives one a total of nearly 44 million Euros (US$65 million) paid in ransom. The bulk of this came from a single incident, in which Pericles Panagopoulos, a seventy-four year old shipping magnate, was kidnapped near his home in a suburb of Athens and held for one week during ransom negotiations. He was released unharmed after a reported 30 million Euro (US$40 million) ransom was paid.

     

    Financial success of that order is impossible for criminal organizations to ignore. With the international media spreading news of these cases far and wide, further copycat activity throughout Europe is a certainty.

     

    The much more efficient and effective law enforcement prevalent in Europe helps ensure that the kidnapping for ransom phenomenon will have limited impact on the lower- and middle-classes. European newspapers are full of articles on the arrests and persecutions of unsophisticated kidnappers trying for easy money, tracked down and apprehended by police almost before they could finish counting their ransom money.

     

    However, as the high-profile cases listed above demonstrate, sophisticated kidnap for ransom groups are confident they can hide kidnappers and ransom money rapidly enough to elude law enforcement and retain their profits. Many of these kidnap for ransom groups are part of long-established Eastern European criminal organizations, with years of experience in evading the consequences of their crimes.

     

    Most modern law enforcement is geared towards ex post facto investigation; the crime is easy, getting away with it much more difficult. This effectively places the bulk of responsibility for prevention soundly on the shoulders of the individual.

     

    This responsibility can be addressed with measures scaling from a simple awareness of risk up through a contingent of bodyguards and full-time GPS monitoring. For example, in a recent case in Finland, the heiress to the Kone fortune was kidnapped by a man who gained access to the victim’s home simply by pretending to be a postal worker. After two weeks of negotiations with the amateurish kidnapper (a corporate lawyer), the victim was released in exchange for a reported 10 million Euro (U.S. $14million) ransom.

     

    Basic measures, such as avoiding routine in one's commute and being extremely cautious about who one allows in one’s home can go a long way towards increasing the level of planning and experience required for a successful kidnapping. More significant precautions such as security-trained drivers and bodyguards serve as powerful deterrents for criminal groups looking to maximize profit and minimize risk to themselves. Accurate risk assessment is critical, insufficient precautions could lead to an open door for would-be kidnappers, while a person clearly traveling under guard could be marked as a high-value target simply on that information alone.

     

    It is only with a combination of law-enforcement policy changes and individual awareness of personal responsibility that Europe can make kidnapping for ransom an unappealing revenue stream for organized crime.

     

     

      Recent kidnappings of high net worth individuals in Europe

     

    Bulgaria, 19 October 2009: Twenty-two year old Rumen Gunenski Jr., son of a wealthy businessman, was abducted by a group of masked men who forced him into a van near his dormitory in a local collage in Sofia’s Grad Quarter (College Town). Sofia City's Prosecutor said it was strongly suspected that the latest kidnapping was conducted by the same gang who kidnapped a businessman Kiro Kirov (released after his family paid a substantial ransom) and another businessman whose whereabouts remain unknown and who is presumed dead. 

     

     

    Greece, 20 January 2009: Pericles Panagopoulos (a Greek shipping magnate), kidnapped in Athens on 12 January, was released near the Greek capital after a week of negotiations and the payment of a 30 million Euros (US$40 million) ransom. The ransom was reportedly paid in used 20- and 50-euro banknotes. A police car on routine patrol near the Aspropyrgos industrial zone west of the capital spotted the 74-year-old shipping tycoon around 0130 local time. Police said the victim did not appear to have been mistreated by his abductors and was in good health despite his need for daily medication. His abductors had apparently stocked up on the necessary medicines. Police were able to trace one shipment of drugs to a pharmacy in the region of Viotia around 100 km/60 miles north of Athens, near the arranged ransom drop-spot. The victim, who founded Greece’s largest ferry company, is considered as one of the richest men in Greece.

     

     

    Greece, 26 June 2009: Aristides Theodoridis, a Greek shipping tycoon, reportedly paid 1.8 million Euros (US$2.6 million) ransom to free his 73-year-old partner a week after she was kidnapped. The woman was released overnight after negotiations, during which the ransom demand was brought down from the kidnappers’ initial demand of five million Euros (US$7 million). The woman was kidnapped along with her driver soon after leaving her home in a southern suburb of Athens on 19 June. The driver was beaten, but released the same day.

     

     

    Greece, 23 June 2008: George Milonas, a 49-year-old Greek businessman and chairperson of the Union of Industrialists of Northern Greece, was abducted on 9 June. The victim was released by his kidnappers and returned home in a stolen vehicle they provided. Though there was no official confirmation that ransom was paid by the businessman‘s family, Greek media outlets reported that a ransom of about 12 million Euros (US$18 million) was handed over to the kidnappers, who initially demanded 50 million Euros (US$74 million) for his safe release. After his release, his company, the largest aluminum extrusion group in Greece, resumed its stock trade, which had been temporarily suspended after his abduction in order to protect its investors.

     

     

    Finland, 14 June 2009: The 26-year-old daughter of Hanna Nurminen, a Finnish industrialist, who was kidnapped on May 27, was released in a forest near the city of Turku after the payment of a 10 million euro (US$14 million) ransom. The young woman‘s mother, the owner of an elevator manufacturing company, is considered to be Finland's richest woman. A corporate lawyer was arrested in connection with the kidnapping. The suspect, who worked alone, kept the woman in a soundproof room in a flat in central Turku after reportedly smuggling her out of her Helsinki apartment in a wooden box. She was found on a forest road after the ransom was paid. Finnish Police say numerous parties aided in the investigation, including kidnapping experts from Britain, Sweden and the United States. The ransom money was found in ground stashes in ten different places in and near the city of Turku.

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        17/3/12 03:24:
      Very interesting.Thank you for sharing
        12/11/11 03:01:
      מעניין ביותר. תודה ששתפת. (נגמרו לי הכוכבים להיום)
        21/11/09 19:32:

      Not surprisingly - Intersting.

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      Amir Lechner
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