The police swooped on a premises in Bloemfontein this week and arrested two men believed to be behind the kidnapping and extortion of a 60-year-old Durban businessman.
SOPHISTICATED multinational criminal gangs with tentacles that span Africa, Asia and Europe are behind the upsurge in kidnapping cases in South Africa, crime experts and police sources say.
Over the past few months, several business people have been kidnapped and their families contacted by the gangs who demand several million rand for their release.
This week, KwaZulu-Natal police swooped on a premises in Bloemfontein and arrested two men believed to be behind the kidnapping and extortion of a 60-year-old Durban businessman. The gang, who had held him hostage for seven days, had demand a R10 million ransom for his release.
Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele said a multidisciplinary operation led to the arrest of the two suspected kidnappers on Monday.
“It is alleged that on July 8, 2021, at 5.38pm, a 60-year-old male victim was leaving his business premises on Umgeni Road in Durban when he was accosted by four armed, unknown males and forced into their vehicle,” Mbele said.
“He was held hostage for seven days when the family received a ransom demand of R10 million for his release from the suspects after the kidnapping.
“On October 10, 2021, police received information tracing the money to a family trust in Bloemfontein. An operational plan was put in place and they proceeded to Bainsvlei in Bloemfontein where they arrested two suspects.
“Police seized electronic items, two rifles and a 9mm firearm which were allegedly used in a commission of crime, for investigation. The investigative team is still looking for the remaining suspects who were part of the kidnapping,” Mbele said.
She added that the two suspects were expected to appear in the Durban Magistrate’s Court on Thursday on charges of kidnapping and extortion.
The incident bears the hallmarks of several other kidnapping and extortion cases that have swamped teh SAPS in recent years.
Last month, police arrested two men who are believed to be part of a kidnap-for-ransom gang targeting foreign nationals living in the country.
The men had kidnapped a 24-year-old Indian national from a parking lot in the Durban CBD and held him hostage before demanding his family pay ransom.
The sophistication of the kidnap-for-ransom gangs was highlighted when Durban businesswoman Sandra Moonsamy was kidnapped from the side of the road in Pinetown in May 2019. She was held for more than six months before police tracked her to a house in eMalahleni (Witbank), Mpumalanga.
Four suspects, who are believed to be part of an international syndicate targeting business people, were arrested during an operation headed by Hawks investigators.
Among the more high-profile cases, Mohammed Noor Karriem, the owner of Giant Sweets & Sweets for Africa, remains missing after he was kidnapped in 2019.
There are claims that the ransom had been paid to the kidnappers after a demand of R20m was made. Neither the police nor the family have confirmed this.
A police detective, who has worked on several kidnapping cases and who spoke to Independent Media on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media, said the gangs chose their targets carefully and were often prepared to wait for months before the family paid a ransom.
He said the gangs had members in Asia, Europe and neighbouring African countries.
“They will sometimes make the ransom calls from numbers outside the country to throw the police off. While local people are involved, the heads of these syndicates sometimes sit in India or Pakistan, even Europe.
“The reason they often target foreigners is that they know that many of these businessmen prefer to deal with cash and they don’t like banking all their money, for a variety of reasons. They also know that these communities are less likely to go to the police,” he said.
Yusuf Abramjee, an anti-crime activist, said kidnappings were not new to South Africa, they had been going on for many years.
“We have two major categories – the one being so-called smaller copycat kidnappers because they look at anything from R10,000 to R200,000, for example. Then we have the so-called bigger organised crime syndicate, sometimes with international links, and they can take anything from R1m up to R20m, and even more at times.
“They are highly organised and well resourced. They seem to be working sometimes in cahoots with corrupt cops and metro cops. While some arrests have been made, there seems to be a number of incidents that are ongoing,” he said.
Abramjee said the police had set up a a special task team to look into kidnap-for-ransom syndicates. He advised people to report kidnapping cases to the police immediately.
“The incidence of kidnappings is a real worry. Wealthy businessmen of Indian origin have been targeted by the so-called bigger syndicates, and while some arrests have been made, it appears that more and more syndicates are cropping up because they’re looking at it as easy money,” he said.