Kidnappings in SA are often orchestrated by syndicates resembling Latin American and African gangs, with demands for ransom from individuals perceived to be wealthy.
There has been a drastic increase in this type of crime, security experts said on Thursday.
“It’s been a largely unreported crime. It’s just something that does not receive publicity, because many cases do not get reported,” D&K Management Consultants owner Kyle Condon said.
“The victims are told by perpetrators not to contact police or media, because if they do, harm is going to come to those kidnapped.
“The kidnappings are operated by syndicates. We know of Brazilian syndicates, we know a syndicate from Nigeria, and there are syndicates from Colombia, and a large contingent of smaller operators from various African countries and in South Africa,” said Condon.
The sharp increase in kidnappings is due to perpetrators having realised “a lot less is needed to orchestrate a kidnapping — as long as you have a telephone and get your homework done you can snatch a victim and name your price”.
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About 60% of cases involve an arranger or mastermind known to the victim, as they would need to know the family and the amount they could demand for the victim’s release.
Condon said the amount kidnappers in high-profile cases demand is usually a lot higher than in hostage situations in lower-income communities.
“I’ve had figures higher than R50m. It’s not a lot of money when converted to US dollars or Bitcoin. I suspect the money [in the Moti kidnapping case] was paid probably offshore, to some foreign account in Brazil or something like that,” he said.
“There is another side to kidnapping that people are not talking about. I’ve come to learn, over the years, that kidnapping is rife in lower-income communities, but it’s done on a lesser scale. They pick up a kid and demand a small amount. The person pays what they can via e-wallet and the kid gets dropped off again.”
Institute for Security Studies (ISS) crime and justice information hub manager Lizette Lancaster said police statistics show a 133% increase in the number of kidnappings between 2011 and 2020.
“This increase is driven by a number of factors. Some of the cases happen in the commission of robberies where people are taken to withdraw cash.”
She said the number of kidnappings where the motive was ransom or extortion was likely to be higher.
“There’s definitely a substantive increase this year. It’s likely to be driven by a number of factors. The first is that some of the syndicates and gangs that used to run protection rackets, for instance targeting nightclubs and night-time businesses, have now, because of Covid-19 lockdown, curfews and these businesses not operating, expanded their operations to include smaller daytime businesses that often operate in cash, such as businesses run by foreign shop owners in townships and other areas.”
The number of kidnappings was also higher because of an increased need for income and the economic downturn, Lancaster said.
“It could be that more people are targeting individuals who they know might be able to get them the money that they require.
“Furthermore, we are probably, given the number of high-profile kidnappings we are seeing, looking at highly specialised gangs or syndicates with access to resources that are perpetrating these crimes by targeting what they perceive to be wealthy individuals.”
The gangs were made up of locals and foreign nationals. “These are not the kingpins or ringleaders. It seems we are starting to see Latin American or Nigerian-type kidnapping for ransom or extortion gangs in operation,” Lancaster said.
“Obviously, not all cases of ransom or extortion are reported to the police.”