Are Kidnappings for Ransom Common in Europe?

29/03/2018

ARE THE STATISTICS MISLEADING? 

Kidnappings for ransom targeting high-net-worth individuals and middle-class citizens in Europe occur infrequently and comparisons of country threat levels based purely on statistics are difficult. The majority of kidnappings in Europe are linked to feuds between organised crime gangs, skewing official statistics published by national authorities.

The European Union’s (EU) statistical office Eurostat collates reports of kidnapping offences recorded by all member states. The most recent Eurostat statistics show the total number of kidnappings in the EU rose from 12,463 in 2009 to 14,886 in 2015 – a 19.5% increase. The recent surge is mainly due to figures reported by the UK and France. Improved reporting procedures likely contributed to the significant increase in the total number of recorded incidents.

However, these numbers do not clearly reflect the threat of kidnap for ransom across Europe and a qualitative analysis of case studies can help shed some light on the issue. The member states contributing to the Eurostat statistics differ widely in the way they define legal concepts or collect crime data. This renders reliable quantitative comparison of country threat levels based on these statistics impossible.

A good example is Germany, where data from the Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt) shows 68 kidnap for ransom incidents were reported in 2015. According to Eurostat, however, Germany reported over 4,500 kidnappings in the same year. The discrepancy arises because the Eurostat number includes abductions, cases of human trafficking and hostage takings related to organised criminal gangs.

While there are no reliable statistics on victim types, incident outcome, or ransoms paid, open source research suggests that kidnappings for ransom in the EU primarily target wealthy individuals. Ransoms demanded can reach millions of Euros and victims are often released unharmed.

This is illustrated by a high-profile case in Germany where the son of an industrial magnate was kidnapped in 2015. The ransom demand was approximately USD3.7 million and the victim was released unharmed after a failed ransom drop attempt. The circumstances around the victim’s release remain unknown, though the threat of a law enforcement operation likely forced the perpetrators to abandon their original plot.

TIGER KIDNAPPING

In addition to ‘traditional’ kidnap for ransom cases, another type of incident – known as ‘tiger kidnapping’ – occurs across Europe, though it is seldom analysed. In a tiger kidnapping the victim is targeted and held with the intention of forcing the victim or another person (often a family member) to facilitate the immediate theft of valuables or concede some other form of ransom from an institution or business organisation.

Victims often have a connection to banking and cash-in-transit services, with losses of millions of Euros. In a recently reported case of tiger kidnapping on 8 February 2018, two men posing as plumbers kidnapped the 22-year-old daughter of an employee of a Swiss money transport company in the French city of Lyon.

The perpetrators contacted the victim’s father, who was carrying out a cash delivery at the time and made a ransom demand. The victim’s father then drove the van carrying approximately USD32 million to a location near Chavornay in Switzerland, where several armed men collected the money before escaping. The kidnap victim was later released unharmed.

In a separate high-profile tiger kidnapping case in Ireland in 2015, perpetrators stole approximately USD216,500. The gang targeted an employee of a cash-in transit company, General Secure Logistics Service (GSLS). Three masked perpetrators broke into the employee’s house and held the employee’s wife and daughter hostage for several hours. The employee was shown photos of his wife and daughter held at gunpoint. In the meantime, the victim was ordered to go to work as usual and deliver a “substantial sum of money” to the perpetrators. The handover of cash took place near Dublin Airport.

DON’T DISMISS THE THREAT

Overall, kidnap for ransom incidents targeting high-net-worth individuals and middle-class citizens in Europe remain rare compared to other regions such as South America and Africa. Organised crime groups operating in the EU do not generally engage in kidnapping, due to stronger law enforcement and lower corruption levels as assessed by Transparency International. Europol’s 2017 Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment concluded that European organised crime groups are mainly focused on drug trafficking, migrant smuggling, organised property crime and excise fraud.

However, NYA’s experience and existing evidence in open sources show that individuals perceived to carry a higher ransom value remain a potential target for organised kidnap gangs. NYA’s dedicated and experienced team responded to over 120 cases in 2017. Talk to us about how we can help you prepare for the worst, and mitigate and manage security threats to you, your family, and your employees.