'Syndicates' continue to cash in on kidnappings of wealthy businessmen

Kidnapping wealthy businessmen in South Africa continues to be a profitable activity for apparent criminal syndicates as they become more brazen.

Sources with links to Crime Intelligence suspect that the same syndicate is involved in a recent spate of kidnappings because of the criminals' modus operandi. It is also suspected to have foreign links, with fingers being pointed at Mozambique.

In the most recent case, on Monday Cape Town businessman Liyaqat Parker, 65, was allegedly kidnapped by five unknown and armed men at his business in N1 City, Parow.

His family appealed for him to be released unharmed before his health deteriorates.

Parker has health issues "as most elderly do" and requires chronic medication, elaborated family spokesperson and attorney Walid Brown on Wednesday. He added that as far as he was aware, Parker did not suffer from any heart conditions.

A source close to the investigation said kidnappers had demanded 50 bitcoin, about R4.3m. Bitcoin is a global cryptocurrency which is difficult to trace.

READ MORE: Kidnapped Cape Town businessman still missing as kidnappers reportedly demand 50 Bitcoin in ransom

Another source told News24 that he was aware of bitcoin being used in ransom demands before.

On the general, modus operandi of these kidnappings, he said: "For the first two days, they physically beat the guy and he tells the family to please help. They claim the ransom two or three days later, when they start negotiating."

It is understood that many kidnapping cases are dealt with privately and are never reported to the police because of threats. 

But paying substantial ransoms does not necessarily lead to a happy ending.

The family of one businessman apparently paid a multimillion-rand ransom recently without success, according to another source.

"They promised to release him and now they are demanding more," the source said.

Copycat syndicates

In one case, a Durban businessman became the third in his family to be targeted.

"This family had previously paid substantial ransoms. They are so fed up, they cut all communications with the kidnappers and turned their phones off."

It is understood that "copycat syndicates" were popping up but usually demanded "small-scale" ransoms of a few million rand.

Cape Town has seen a number of kidnappings in recent years.

Just under a year ago, on July 25, 2017, three armed men kidnapped Sadeck Zhaun Ahmed, who owns Zhauns Business Opportunity Machines in Woodstock, Cape Town.

He was eventually released at the end of August. 

Bangladeshi businessman Mustapha Goolam was kidnapped from Food Town in December 2016 and ransom was set at R10m. 

Government concerned

He was found in Khayelitsha two days later. Five people, including a police reservist, were arrested.

News24 sister publication, People's Post reported that no ransom was paid.

A wealthy Cape Town businessman, Naushad Deshmukh Khan, 46, was also kidnapped in 2016.

"The kidnappers demanded millions of dollars in cash. Sources say a ransom of $750 000 (R9 722 900) was eventually paid and Khan was freed two months later," anti-crime activist Yusuf Abramjee previously told News24.

Western Cape community safety MEC Dan Plato was concerned about the apparent extortion.

"Kidnappings in the province cannot become the new lucrative and profitable criminal venture," he said in a statement.

"Though this might not seem like a lot, the rand value money involved in the previous cases may be very lucrative if it is a lone syndicate operating, or might even seem enticing to those criminals always looking for the next opportunity."

Kidnappings to be prioritised

He said he would be asking provincial police commissioner Lieutenant General Khombinkosi Jula to assign top provincial detectives to these cases.

Asked for comment on Wednesday about Parker's kidnapping, Abramjee would only say that he had discussed the developments with Police Minister Bheki Cele.

"He is equally concerned and has given me an undertaking that it is being prioritised."

He refused to comment further and directed all queries to the police.

National police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo had not yet responded to an inquiry but indicated in August last year that there was no evidence of kidnapping syndicates operating in the country.

"We of course condemn these sorts of crimes and we are making every effort to educate and create awareness around it. There is no evidence of syndicates operating in SA," he said at the time.

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