Saturday, December 5, 2009

Market for kidnapping

The Hostage Business
"Few sectors have endured the economic downturn of recent years better than kidnapping. Confidence in big banks and stock markets might be shaky, but the crudest form of trade — abducting and bartering people — seems alive and well. Gregory Bangs, the kidnap-and-ransom manager for Chubb Group, an American insurance company, said that patterns of kidnapping around the world are “almost inverse” to that of the global economy. “In a recessionary environment, the kidnapping rate goes up,” he told me. More companies are requesting kidnapping and ransom insurance — Bangs reported a 15 to 20 percent jump at Chubb over the past three years — than ever before. But why? What makes kidnapping and ransom, or K.& R., such a growth industry?
In April, speaking at a security conference in the Nigerian capital Abuja, Mike Okiro, then the inspector general of the national police, shared a revealing fact. He estimated that the total amount of ransoms paid in Nigeria between 2006 and 2008 exceeded $100 million."...

"But as long as families and governments and companies continue to pay ransoms, Okiro told me, “there will be no end to it.”
The U.S. government concurs. Discussing the Somali pirates in April, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said companies that paid ransoms to the pirates were “part of the problem.” “Clearly, if they didn’t pay the ransoms, we’d be in a stronger position,” Gates added. (When a terrorist organization is involved, paying a ransom can actually put individuals and companies in violation of U.S. laws, including the Patriot Act.) As Erik Rye, an adviser for hostage affairs at the State Department, puts it, “If you’re out there feeding the bears, the bears are going to keep coming into the camp.”
"The contemporary kidnapping-and-ransom industry emerged in the late 1970s in response to rampant kidnappings in Colombia and throughout Latin America. Globally, for the next 25 years, most cases occurred in Latin America. But political and economic developments have begun redrawing the map of kidnapping hot spots. Chase still considers Colombia “the most mature market” for kidnapping because Colombian perpetrators have been at it the longest — although incidents decreased after President Alvaro Uribe began to take on the country’s guerrilla movements in 2002. There were 465 reported cases in Colombia last year (down from almost 3,000 in 2002). Mexico now has the most kidnappings, with an estimated 7,000 in 2008, though this number has stayed steady in recent years. In fact, Latin America’s share of total reported kidnappings fell to 42 percent in 2008 from 65 percent in 2004.
Gregory Bangs, the K.& R. manager at Chubb, doesn’t foresee the global market flattening out anytime soon. He said new markets were flourishing outside Latin America. Two emerging markets are in Africa and the Middle East; together their share of reported cases nearly quadrupled between 2004 and 2008. During that time, Somali pirates seized dozens of ships off the Horn of Africa. The ships were usually insured, and the pirates made off with increasingly large sums. In postwar Iraq, criminals relied on kidnapping to raise money, and Al Qaeda used kidnappings and beheadings to spread terror. The Taliban have also turned to kidnapping to raise money. And in Nigeria, what began with MEND quickly expanded. Foreigners are still kidnapped in Nigeria, but because many international companies have pulled their employees out of the country, the majority of cases now involve Nigerian victims. The range of victims seems to keep expanding. Kidnappers have grabbed children on the way to school. This summer, two politicians from central Nigeria were abducted; when their relatives couldn’t pay the ransom, the captors freed the two men to go and find the money — but only after they left their wives as collateral. "
"Chase said the proof-of-life question — and the way it is handled — often defines the case. “It’s always comforting when they talk about the P.O.L.,” Chase said. “They’ve done this before. They know the form. They know how the game is played.”

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