Mail & Guardian

Police mum on kidnap syndicate

As more businesspe­ople go missing, private investigat­ors tell of a sophistica­ted global network

- Sihle Manda

The separate abductions of two high-profile businesspe­ople in recent weeks have prompted fears that a highly organised kidnapping syndicate is operating in South Africa — and that it may have internatio­nal links.

The family of Pretoria businesspe­rson Omar Carrim (76) fears he was abducted following his disappeara­nce last Thursday. His burned-out car was found near Atteridgev­ille and his family has appealed to his kidnappers to take him to hospital because he has a serious heart condition.

The abductors of Cape Town businesspe­rson Zhaun Ahmed (71) are reported to be demanding a R44-million ransom for his safe release. He was captured by four armed men in Salt River on July 25.

This week, the Daily Voice reported that Ahmed’s family was “locked in tense negotiatio­ns with the kidnappers, who are believed to be Cape Flats underworld figures”.

Abductions for ransom appear to be most prevalent in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. In February, News24 reported that a police reservist was identified as being the mastermind in the “wellplanne­d and organised” kidnapping of Cape Town businesspe­rson Golam Mostafa. The shopkeeper was later found in a house in Khayelitsh­a. His abductors had allegedly demanded R10-million for his release.

Private investigat­or Shaheen Suleiman of Magma Security said the syndicate appeared to have links to Mozambique, where several similar kidnapping­s have been reported.

“What happens is they [the kidnappers] see businessme­n and they look for weak links. They then do their own investigat­ions, then they kidnap a person. They leave it for about five to six days and then they start asking for ransom money,” he said.

“People allegedly working with the kidnappers would then make contact with their victim’s family. The people who will phone for the money are people from outside the country.

“It is usually countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. They call and say: ‘Listen, this is how much we want; pay us into this [overseas] account.’ The family then has to make a plan how this will happen to hand over the money. That is how they operate,” Suleiman said.

The string of abductions first aroused suspicions in November 2013 in Kokstad, southern KwaZuluNat­al, when a Bangladesh­i businesspe­rson was captured and tortured for days. He was released after his family paid R161000 in ransom money 22 days later. At the time, IOL reported that he had been moved between safe houses in Durban and Pretoria. The case was solved by Suleiman.

Two months later, two men, allegedly with links to an internatio­nal kidnapping syndicate, were arrested for kidnapping another Bangladesh­i businesspe­rson, this time in Richmond in the KwaZuluNat­al Midlands.

Another private investigat­or, who asked not to be identified because he was “bound by secrecy”, said there were suggestion­s that the syndicate was specifical­ly targeting businesspe­ople. He had investigat­ed some of the abductions, he said.

A third private investigat­or said that, in his experience, such kidnapfor-ransom cases often have some internatio­nal links — even when they happen in South Africa.

“We get South African families coming to us because their people have been kidnapped in the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] or Cameroon, or somewhere. When the kidnapping happens in South Africa it is [usually] a foreigner who is kidnapped, and it is always a 419,” he said, referring to the notorious scam typically operated out of Nigeria in which a victim is convinced to advance money to a stranger.

When foreigners are persuaded to travel to South Africa as part of a 419 con and are kidnapped, the investigat­or said, the kidnapping “always” relies on foreign links.

Earlier in 2013, a Pakistani man — who was alleged to be part of an internatio­nal kidnapping syndicate — appeared in a Port Elizabeth court for abducting a local businesspe­rson and demanding a R1.5-million ransom for his release.

In December 2015, the Sunday Tribune reported that Durban businesspe­rson Mehboob Valimamade, who held both South African and Mozambican citizenshi­p, was abducted by a “brazen” gang that had kidnapped and held for ransom several millionair­es in Maputo.

Police spokespers­on Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said it was difficult for him to confirm or deny any links between these cases, or even the existence of such a syndicate, because it may prejudice ongoing investigat­ions.

“What I do know is that towards the end of last year there were Pakistani/Bangladesh­i guys that were kidnapped by the opposite nationalit­ies. We arrested some people. That is the only thing that comes to mind; I don’t know of any other syndicates or kidnapping­s,” he said.

Naidoo said the police would only release informatio­n related to abductions if there were particular public consequenc­es, for example if a person was being held in a public space.

He added that releasing informatio­n related to such cases could often prove “detrimenta­l to the situation”.

“It can put the life of the victim in greater danger,” he said.

 ??  ?? Fretting: Omar Carrim’s family say that he was allowed to phone them on Sunday to say he needed his medication. The call was abruptly ended. Photo: Deaan Vivier/Gallo Images/Beeld
Fretting: Omar Carrim’s family say that he was allowed to phone them on Sunday to say he needed his medication. The call was abruptly ended. Photo: Deaan Vivier/Gallo Images/Beeld

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