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Unpacking SA’s kidnapping syndicates

A crime intelligence report has revealed that kidnappings in South Africa rose by 60% this year and were compounded by allegations that members of the SA Police Service (SAPS) and private security companies were involved.

It also revealed that neither the rich nor the poor were safe on the streets, as kidnappers targeted high net-worth individuals (for whom at least R50 million ransom was demanded) as well as those who were far less affluent.

According to the report, a network of multinationals has been operating in the country with some rogue police members, but the police net is closing in on them. The SAPS has established a unit that will deal solely with the recent spate of kidnappings.

The report, which detailed various modi operandi of kidnappers in cases reported from January to October this year and compared them with the same period last year, was handed to national police commissioner Khehla Sitole.

City Press has seen a directive issued by Sitole and deputy national commissioner in charge of crime detection, Lieutenant General Liziwe Evelyn Ntshinga, to all crime intelligence component heads to participate in a kidnap management and intervention task team.

Former acting crime intelligence head Major General Feroz Khan leads the anti-kidnapping task team, which has seen several suspects arrested and victims released without ransom being paid. The directive read: The recent spate of kidnappings, especially with children as secondary victims, has become a serious threat to the safety and security of the communities.

“This threat is compounded by allegations of the involvement of members of the SAPS and private security companies, thus complicating the current intervention processes,” the directive read.

“To this effect, the component head: operational intelligence support, Major General F Khan – with the support of component and provincial heads – will develop a progressive intervention plan/strategy to mitigate these threats.”

HOTSPOTS

Having recorded 2 580 kidnappings, Gauteng was identified as a hotspot, followed by KwaZulu-Natal, with 1 573 cases. The Western Cape had 818 abductions and Mpumalanga reported 508 incidents.

Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane are current hotspots, followed by eThekwini.

The Northern Cape is currently the safest province as far as kidnappings are concerned, having recorded only 49 cases, compared with 54 during the period under review.

The confidential report also found that the country’s statistics regarding kidnappings did not give a true reflection of the extent of the crisis, as these crimes were often captured incorrectly (as carjackings, murders or house robberies) and were sometimes not reported at all by family members.

The report read:Local and international crime syndicates have been linked to some kidnappings, but kidnapping and extortion are not confined to organised groups.

Last month, Gauteng police commissioner Elias Mawela urged the province’s residents to be more vigilant and aware of their surroundings to avoid becoming victims of this crime.

During his brief to members of the Gauteng legislature about the province’s second-quarter (July to September) crime statistics, Mawela said residents needed to be on high alert.

RANSOMS

The report revealed that small ransoms ranged from R2 000 to R10 000 and were normally paid through eWallet and money market transactions, or through the bank account of the victim if that victim was an adult. For the rich and famous, ransoms start at almost R50 million and were paid in dollars, averaging $3 million (R48 425 000) and more.

“The targets are minors, students and adults,” the report revealed.

“The payments are made in cash deposits in Dubai, using an informal money exchange centre. Normally, the victims are kidnapped on their way to their business premises and forcibly removed from their vehicles and placed in the vehicles of the perpetrators.

“Blindfolding occurs immediately after being taken hostage. The victims are cuffed using cable ties, nylon rope or handcuffs. They are well-established businesspeople and operate import and export businesses,” the report read.

Crime intelligence has learnt that “the kidnappers are technologically advanced and no cellphone data is available for the suspects. All data received from cellular service providers is either falsely registered or computer-generated. [IMEIs and serial numbers] cannot be tracked and WhatsApp has been used as a preferred method of communication.”

MULTINATIONALS

The report revealed that Bangladeshi and Pakistani nationals were being targeted en route to or on the way back from mosques.

“They are forced into a stationary vehicle parked on the side of the road. Often, victims are tortured while being held at random houses across the country. Drop-offs and money market payments are used to pay ransom amounts. The report read:Victims are either in the process of selling a shop or have recently come into money, and the ransom amounts are mostly below R500 000.

HAWALA SYSTEM

City Press has spoken to several detectives involved in investigating cases of kidnapping for ransom.

One said the gangs were so organised that they even made use of profilers who conducted research on potential victims.

“In most of the recent high-profile cases, including the Moti brothers, the victims had made use of the Hawala system.

“The kidnappers knew exactly how much they had and were talking about millions. The Moti family has allegedly now left the country and a lot of wealthy people are very worried. Some have started hiring private security to escort them and their families,” said the detective.

Hawala, also known as Hara, is an informal system that allows for the transfer of money from one person to another without any actual cash changing hands. The system is mostly used by people who want to evade tax authorities and conceal wealth.

“We currently have a weak justice system. A suspect who was arrested for kidnapping was released on bail, despite being on Interpol’s red list. Another suspect, who was shot dead in Fordsburg [Johannesburg] on Thursday, was wanted by the FBI. His father has also been arrested in connection with the kidnapping,” the source claimed.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING

“The syndicate assists illegal immigrants to come to South Africa from countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan for a fee.

“When the illegal immigrants have been successfully smuggled into the country, they are kept at safe, guarded premises and tortured. Ransom is demanded from [their families] in their countries of origin,” the report read.

If the ransom was not forthcoming, the victims were often sold to human traffickers.

SOLID PLAN

“We have syndicates and some small groups who’re now targeting both the richest people as well as average citizens,” said police spokesperson Vish Naidoo.

However, he said police had formulated a successful strategy that had seen several victims released and the suspects arrested.

“We have a solid plan and the arrests and freeing of captives is a clear indication that we’re winning the fight against the kidnapping syndicates,” said Naidoo.Recent cases

  • Mozambican national Jahyr Abdula and his friend were kidnapped on October 15 by people who pretended to be policemen. The two were rescued on the same day by officials from law enforcement agencies and private security companies.At the time, police said the men were travelling in a BMW when their vehicle was intercepted by two other vehicles.
  • On October 20, the four Moti brothers were abducted at gunpoint while en route to school in Polokwane. The four were released after a large sum of money was allegedly paid to their captors.
  • A shocking video of a man being kidnapped in Fordsburg, Johannesburg, is doing the rounds on social media.
  • On October 27, a man seated in the front of a black sedan was seen being forcefully taken away at gunpoint. He is forced into a white sedan that was parked in front of his vehicle. The man was later freed and the details remain sketchy regarding the motive of the kidnapping.
  • On November 17, a nine-year-old was kidnapped from a school in Mayfair and remains missing. The kidnappers are allegedly demanding R35 million to release the child.
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