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- Friday, September 06, 2013 - From Print Edition


Kidnapping for ransom is not just rampant in Karachi and other Pakistani cities, because what was once a crime associated mostly with Latin America, is now becoming worryingly common across the rest of the world, which has literally been struggling for years to track down the well-equipped abductors and curb the menace.


The United States State Department Website, which tracks worldwide crime trends, had last year warned of “alarming increases” in kidnapping cases in Venezuela and the ever-surging trend of transporting people against their will in Pakistan.


The May 2, 2012 edition of the prestigious “New York Times” had stated: “Kidnapping for ransom is on the rise in many countries. In 2011, the Mexican government reported a more than 300 percent increase in the crime since 2005. The United States State Department website, which tracks worldwide crime trends, warns of “alarming increases” in kidnapping in Venezuela, and that abductions in Pakistan “continued to increase dramatically nationwide.”


The US newspaper had written: “But statistics can be difficult to gather, and the numbers of victims are likely underestimated. Many released hostages refuse to report the crime; some fear attracting copycat criminals, while others distrust corrupt police who moonlight as kidnappers. In Venezuela, for instance, the State Department estimates that roughly four out of five kidnappings are not reported.”


The newspaper had quoted a former kidnapping business underwriter as opining: “Kidnapping and ransom is a very profitable insurance business.”


It had also quoted the views of Jeff Green, the director of Griffin Underwriting, which specialized in kidnap and ransom insurance: “Generally, the family will have someone in front of them within 24 hours. It’s a business negotiation, where somebody is trying to sell something — and you know you are going to buy it, you have to buy it. But the advantage you have is that you are the only buyer, because they have no value to anyone else.”


As the “New York Times” had hinted out, kidnap and ransom insurance is an area where few American firms have a significant foothold. One of those companies is the Chubb Group.


Few months ago, this company’s Vice President, Greg Bangs, had remarked in a media interview: “Mexico is number one, and the number of kidnappings has exploded in recent years. Statistics on kidnappings are incredibly hard to source, because the majority goes unreported. The latest statistics for 2011 put the number at 5,000 to 7,000 in Mexico, but we’d estimate that the real figure is closer to 10,000 to 12,000.”


Greg Bangs had said: “The escalation of kidnappings in Mexico is largely tied to drug violence. Kidnapping and extortion provides an extra source of revenue for many of the drug cartels, so others are also branching out into it. It has become another industry for them. In addition, military crackdowns have led to the murders of some key figures in the drug industry, leaving some people to seek other ways to make money. Kidnapping for ransom is a proven and relatively easy option.”


He had further disclosed: “Venezuela is number two on the league tables, with around 2,000 recorded kidnappings in 2011, and it’s growing at an alarming rate because of economic troubles in the country. Brazil is also a key problem area for ‘express kidnapping’ where individuals are held up at gun point or carjacked – usually after dinner at around 11.55pm – and forced to withdraw their daily allowance over two days from an ATM. These express kidnappings are also becoming increasingly violent, with beatings and rape more prevalent. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the average ransom figure stands at $50m-$60m – or in one case it was as high as $90million, against a global average of $2million.”


The Foreign Policy Centre, an independent UK-based foreign affairs think tank, had also conducted a study on this issue a few years ago.


The Foreign Policy Centre, which had former British Premier Tony Blair as its patron in 1998 and has since had three Co-Presidents from each of the UK’s major political parties, had noted: “Economic kidnapping is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. It is estimated that kidnappers globally take home in the region of $500 million each year in ransom payments: the hostage is a commodity with a price on his head. Reliable statistics are hard to come by, but it is estimated that there are approximately 10,000 kidnappings each year worldwide. The undisputed kidnap capital of the world is Colombia, where the activity has been described as ‘a cottage industry’. In 2000, the Colombian National Police recorded 3,162 cases.”


This think-tank’s current Co-Presidents are Michael Gove (British Secretary of State for Education), Baroness Margaret Jay of Paddington (former leader of the House of Lords) and Charles Kennedy (former leader of the Liberal Democrats).


Founded in 1998 by the then British Foreign Secretary, late Robin Cook, the Foreign Policy Centre, had gone on to write: “Colombia’s problem has not been contained within its own borders. Colombian kidnapping groups often cross over into Venezuela and Ecuador to take hostages, and both countries feature in the top ten. Other hot-spots around the globe include Mexico, where the problem has risen dramatically in the last five years, Brazil, the Philippines and the former Soviet Union.”


It had asserted: “As the kidnapping of The Wall Street Journal’s reporter Daniel Pearl reminds us, kidnapping is still a useful tool for holding companies and governments ransom.”


Another leading American newspaper, the “Los Angeles Times,” had stated in February 12, 2009 edition: “Arizona has become the new drug gateway into the United States. Roughly half of all marijuana seized along the US-Mexico border was taken on the state’s 370-mile border with Mexico. One result is an epidemic of kidnapping that many residents are barely aware of. Indeed, most every other crime here is down. But police received 366 kidnapping-for-ransom reports last year and 359 in 2007. Police estimate twice that number goes unreported.”


The “Los Angeles Times” had reported: “Along the Pacific Coast several hours south of Arizona, Sinaloa is the state where drug smuggling in Mexico began. Most Mexican cartels originated there. Kidnapping was how they collected debts. For many years, they kidnapped other smugglers and left law-abiding citizens alone. But after several major traffickers died or went to prison, younger gunmen stopped playing by the old rules. In the late 1990s and 2000, Sinaloa had its first rash of kidnappings of legitimate merchants and businessmen.”