Police cage Germany's bird-brained blackmailer

IT MIGHT have been the perfect crime, had the pigeon not been fitted with a homing device. Instead of winging the loot to its master, it brought the police to his doorstep. Thus was the career of another promising extortionist cut short.

The pigeon-fancier, a German of Romanian descent named Alexandru Nemeth, is the latest in a long line of criminals to pit their wits against one of the big corporations. Like his illustrious predecessors, he had a seemingly infallible scheme. Extortion is all the rage in Germany, but those who enter this sport must play by certain rules. First: no one should get hurt. Second: the target should be a well-known company. Third: each new entrant must devise a convoluted plan for collecting the reward.

Nemeth's target was the Swiss food and beverages concern Nestle, which for some inexplicable reason is hugely popular with the extortionist fraternity. He poisoned mustard and mayonnaise manufactured by the company, delivered tainted chocolate to homes randomly chosen, and left cyanide- laced drinks at a Cologne playground.

The company was asked to hand over a large wad of cash to make him stop. Supermarket shelves had to be emptied at ruinous cost to Nestle, but fortunately no one was injured. This went on for two years as Nemeth travelled around the country poisoning food and drinks in at least 20 cities, without recouping any of his outlay.

Then came the clever part. On his allotment near Frankfurt, Nemeth had been training his couriers for pay-day. When the pigeons were ready, he spread his poison afresh and gave Nestle new instructions.

Into little satchels he had sewn himself, the company was to place uncut diamonds worth DM25m (pounds 9.22m). The tiny bags were to be attached to the breasts of 12 of his birds, which were to be found in a car parked at a given location near Dusseldorf. Just to make things a little more difficult for inquisitive police, the car bore untraceable number plates.

A brilliant plan, but with one flaw. The diamonds never reached the sky. Instead of gems, the police loaded the bags with miniature radio transmitters and in a helicopter followed the pigeons from a discreet distance. When one of them arrived home a day later, nearly 200 miles south, the police had their man.

End of the machinations of the bird-brained extortionist, but not of Nestle's troubles. Last week, as police were bragging about how they had bagged the dirty dozen, news came of another sting. Someone in southern Germany was going around pouring weed-killer into more of the company's products, in supermarkets belonging to a particular chain. This perpetrator is hedging his or her bets. If the Swiss do not pay up, the retailers might.

The strangest aspect of this extortionist phenomenon is that however hard they try, no criminal has been known to profit from it. Just as Nemeth's pigeons were swatting up on their route plan, the notorious "Maggi extortionist" was being put away for three years. He had threatened to infect the Maggi company's soup cubes with BSE unless he was paid $500,000 (pounds 310,500).

The judges ruled that was a preposterous threat, since Germany was deemed safe from BSE after the ban on British and Swiss beef. But the person who has been holding Daimler to ransom by hurling rocks at Mercedes cars travelling on the motorway might not get off so lightly. The punishment for undermining German capitalism in this manner can be severe.

Take the great Dagobert, the role model of German extortionists, who is serving a seven-year jail sentence. During his career in the early Nineties, Dagobert bombed six department stores in Berlin and used a range of electronic gadgets, including a miniature submarine, to collect his fee.

Dagobert, real name Arno Funke, had many narrow escapes. In one famous episode, he evaded capture when the policeman pursuing him slipped on dog excrement.

From the comfort of his cell, Funke, who has detailed his exploits in a book, is happy to dispense advice to his followers. As the current crop of extortionists will readily admit, Dagobert's genius has yet to be surpassed. But they are trying hard.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people

Harry Potter actor suffered 'severe flu-like symptoms' on a flight from London to Orlando

Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
News
news

Rap music mogul accused of running two men over in his truck

News
Gywneth Paltrow proposed that women seek out a special herbal steam-treatment service
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
tv

First full-length look is finally here

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Film director Martin Scorsese
film
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Regional Gas Installation Manager - South East England

£36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Gas Installation Manager is r...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service and Breakdown Engineer - South East

£29000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Service and Brea...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Recruitment Genius: Engineering Manager - Alconbury

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for an Engineering M...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee