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Countering The Business Of Abductions

Published 8 months ago
By Chanel Retief

With statistics and reports citing increasing kidnappings in South Africa, will specialist insurance and consultants trained in handling hostage situations become more of the norm to address the business of kidnappings?

When sons of Limpopo businessman Naazim Moti were abducted in October while being driven to Curro
Heuwelkruin Independent School in Dalmada, they grabbed the headlines for weeks, not just in the
Limpopo province, but across South Africa.

According to Briefly, the police report stated that seven men intercepted Zia (15), Alaan (13), Zayyad (11) and Zidan (7) along Tzaneen bypass and took them to an unknown location, leaving their 64-year-old driver behind.

The conversation did not come a halt when the brothers’ release was announced three weeks later. They were unharmed although reports circulated that a R50 million ($3.1 million) ransom was paid, however, this is yet to be confirmed by the family.

This does beg the question, however, on how prevalent are these abductions and crimes? Authorities are currently still investigating the Moti brothers’ kidnapping, but according to Catia Folgore, Senior Underwriter at specialist risk insurer iTOO, this could have been the work of a syndicate and could have been financially motivated.

Folgore says in a statement released in November that kidnapping is becoming big business in South Africa.

“In most cases, we are dealing with professional crime syndicates that carefully plan and execute abductions for ransom. They often study their victims ahead of the time and know how much a family is able to pay,” she says.

Speaking to her colleague, the Managing Director at iTOO, Justin Naylor, his assessment of the situation is South Africans should start looking at the trends surrounding abduction.

“South Africa, at the moment, the fifth-highest risk country in the world and I think this comes as a surprise to many South Africans,” Naylor says to FORBES AFRICA. “We are right up there with the high-risk countries.”

According to iTOO, Mexico, Columbia and Nigeria are high-risk countries along with northern Mozambique. ITOO speculates that kidnappings in South Africa could be a spillover from Mozambique.

“It is a potential theory but we do think that some of this could be gangs spilling over from Mozambique,” Naylor says.

On November 19, a week after the Moti brothers’ return, South African Police Services (SAPS) Minister, Bheki Cele, presented the latest crime statistics for South Africa, covering the second quarter of 2021.

Between July and September, a total of 2,000 kidnapping cases were reported to the police. This is 28.6% more than last year’s 133%. Cases reported to the police climbed from 2,839 in 2010/11 to 6,632 in 2019/20.

“A majority of kidnappings were hijacking-related; followed by kidnappings that were robbery and rape-related,” Cele said at the recent briefing. “Out of 620 kidnapping cases, 52 were ransom-related cases…most occurred in the Gauteng province. Seven kidnappings were as a result of human trafficking.”

“I think the question is, why has kidnapping become big business in South Africa? Why are we seeing an
increasing trend? So I think the first thing to emphasize is that kidnapping in most cases is for business,”
Naylor states. “It is criminal gangs kidnapping people to earn ransom and it’s an easy way for these terrorist groups or gang groups to make money.”

In addition to that, Naylor states that it could also be because a business deal has gone wrong, or someone
is holding a grudge or doing out of pure jealousy but, in the end, in most cases, it does boil down to business.

From adding household and car insurance to your budget along with medical aid and life cover, will it become reality that you just might need to add a specialist cover to the spreadsheet?

“Traditionally, most kidnap and ransom insurance were bought by corporates. So big companies, often well-known listed companies or brands that had business in Africa, like the big banks, telcos, construction and mining,” Naylor explains. “Many of them still do for the executives or employees that are traveling into Africa. And that is still a big part of the kidnap market. But what we have seen more recently, the trends is that most of the kidnappings have been on private individuals and on family members.”

Insurance companies like iTOO offers customers access to consultants.

“The consultants we work with have experience of over 1,500 kidnapping cases around the world. They have access to different languages, and criminal profilers, criminal psychologists that work with law enforcement, they manage the media. So I think the role of those consultants is really important.”

Kidnap and ransom insurance also covers other aspects like extortion, threats, workplace violence, detention, unlawful detention and/or emergency political evacuations.

According to Naylor, kidnap and ransom insurance is not a new area of insurance, it’s offered by many global insurers. In South Africa, there are others too that do it in partnership with insurance company, Lloyd’s of London.
“Kidnap and ransom insurance really was started by Lloyd’s of London and is still offered by many global insurance companies,” Naylor explains. “It really took off and became well known in the 1980s in Colombia, with all of the kidnappings around the drug lords.”

The premiums to be paid for this kind of insurance varies significantly, depending on the customer. iTOO, for example, assesses the amount of cover that an individual would need. They look at aspects like the person’s net worth and also assess the individual’s travel history to determine which countries they frequent on a regular basis.

They also look at the type of business or industry that the customer is in.

“And we would then determine a price so it’s hard to give one specific price. But to give you an idea, it would probably cost R30,000 ($1,900) per annum for say R10 million ($616,000) worth of cover for an individual with a low risk, which would include the insured and their immediate family members but it’s very difficult to confirm that as an exact price because it would depend on all the risk factors that we assess,” Naylor says.

In this day and age, criminals are becoming more creative in how they target their victims. With the fast and continuous growth of technology and social media, it is becoming increasingly easy for abductors to seek out their victims, says Naylor.

“The ability to build up a profile of people is becoming increasingly easy. Without even having the cover, you just have to have security awareness and being aware of what you’re sharing, and how you keep certain information private. I’m not saying don’t put anything on social media, but certainly be aware, especially if you are a high-profile family, there will be a risk.”

“In most of these cases, the kidnappers want to communicate with the family directly instead of dealing with the police. Therefore, it is best to bring in experts who are qualified to deal with such incidents instead of running the risk of aggravating the situation,” Folgore adds in the press release.

In a country where gender-based violence is already the second pandemic, can South Africa really afford a new wave of crime?

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