Intelligence Team at SI Risk
This first appeared as part of SI Risk’s Kidnap and Ransom Report for April 2018 and is reproduced with their kind permission.
Surging Numbers of South African Businesspeople Kidnapped for Ransom
The number of wealthy businesspeople kidnapped for ransom in South Africa has spiked dramatically recently, with police investigating 24 such cases since late 2016 – amounting to roughly three abductions a month. Most of the known victims have been released upon payment of ransoms ranging from US$400,000 (R5m) to upwards of US$4m (R50m). Three recently abducted businessmen, however, have been killed, while at least one remains missing. The upward trend is disproportionately affecting South Africa’s South Asian business community, with Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian nationals and descendants constituting some 90% of the victims (around three Chinese citizens are also now thought to be kidnapped in South Africa each year).
Behind most of these schemes are international crime syndicates with origins in South Asia (notably Pakistan) or neighbouring Mozambique, which until recently had itself been a notorious KRE hotspot (some of the leading criminals from that period were reportedly arrested yet released on bail; they are now fugitives.) Such groups use sophisticated financial instruments to conceal their extortionary transactions. However, alongside the international footprint and capabilities, perpetrators will also rely on corrupt local law enforcement officials, as well as detailed knowledge of the communities from which the businesspeople are abducted, in order to intimidate their victims and avoid detection. In some instances, victims have been coerced into making recurring payments after their release, with violence threatened against themselves and/or families.
The most prominent recent kidnapping for ransom in South Africa involved a 54-year old Polish businesswoman who was abducted outside her hotel in Johannesburg’s affluent Sandton area on 11 April and held for a reported €2m (US$2.4m). In response, Polish authorities launched a coordinated rescue effort with South African and other international agencies including Interpol, Europol, the British police and FBI. Two days later, the woman was released unharmed near OR Tambo airport. It is not clear whether any of the perpetrators were arrested, while South African media reports variously indicate that a ransom of between US$1.5-2.5m was paid to secure her release.
It is important to note that the Polish woman was reportedly not in South Africa for purposes of business, but instead had arrived following an invitation from a 30-year-old man whom she met online, suggesting she was the victim of an online dating scam. Perhaps more indicative of the current trend were several unrelated developments that happened around the time her kidnapping and release.
That same week, four Pakistanis faced the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court for the alleged abduction of a Pakistani businessman shortly after he arrived in South Africa in March. Days later, the suspected ‘ringleader’ of a kidnapping syndicate, Majeed ‘Manjla’ Khan, was brazenly shot dead by two men while stuck in traffic on a Johannesburg highway. It was reportedly the fourth assassination attempt against Khan since he broke away from another syndicate –based out of Mozambique’s capital, Maputo – five years ago.
Compounding the problem of these high-profile abductions in South Africa are reports of increasing cases of copy-cat kidnappings. Such abductions are typically the work of street criminals or loosely organised gangs; with minimal resources and little care for detail, they target anyone with access to cash, with the objective of simply extracting whatever money possible using threats of violence before quickly separating from the victim to avoid detection. In some ways, these copy-cat kidnappings can be more dangerous than the high-profile, targeted abductions carried out by international syndicates from which they take inspiration, as the inexperience of the opportunistic perpetrators makes them inherently more liable to rash and potentially fatal decision-making.
Ultimately, there are thought to be some 10,000 cases of kidnapping in South Africa each year. The targeting of businesspeople for purposes of violent extortion constitutes a small fraction of those cases. Yet there is clearly an upward trend in this area, and the severity of the threat should be a concern for all businesses and individuals operating in South Africa. With the criminal syndicates that are responsible for the dozens of South African businesspeople abducted recently becoming increasingly sophisticated, there is little encouragement that the trend will be halted or reversed any time in the immediate future.
Selected Incidents from Past Six Months
20/04 SOUTH AFRICA: A Johannesburg diamond dealer of Indian descent is kidnapped while driving along the N1 highway and then held for a US$400,000 (R50m) ransom; he manages to escape later that day after shooting one kidnapper dead; no arrests
18/04 SOUTH AFRICA: Police rescue a Pakistani national found chained up inside an Eldorado Park house outside Johannesburg; in the same raid, seven individuals‚ including Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals, are arrested in relation to kidnappings of three Bangladeshi and Pakistani citizens in the Johannesburg-Pretoria area earlier this month and in March
17/04 SOUTH AFRICA: A Polish businesswoman who was kidnapped outside her hotel in the affluent Sandton area of northern Johannesburg is freed following international police operation and ransom payment
10/03 SOUTH AFRICA: Shiraz Gathoo, a Johannesburg businessman, is kidnapped at a fake police checkpoint on the N12 highway; his captors are reportedly demanding a US$400,000 (R50m) ransom for his release
15/01 SOUTH AFRICA: Hasan Parvej, a Pretorian businessman abducted in August last year, is found dead just hours after his family make a payment of US$5,600 (R70‚000) to the captors, who were demanding US$80,000 (R1m) for his release
28/12/17 SOUTH AFRICA: Salim Vali Patel, a Limpopo businessman, is discovered murdered with his assistant, Victor Baloyi, days after their kidnapping
28/12/17 SOUTH AFRICA: Shamshuddin Patel, a Johannesburg businessman abducted the previous day, is rescued following police sting operation and dramatic high-speed chase; one arrest, US$500,000 (R6m) ransom payment recovered
18/12/17 SOUTH AFRICA: Pretoria businessman Omar Carrim is released after four months in captivity and US$1.2-2m (R15-25m) ransom payment
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