Boom time for kidnappers

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The Independent US

Kidnappings for ransom reached record numbers in 1999 with Latin America again the most likely region in the world in which to be seized, specialist London based insurer Hiscox has revealed.

Worldwide the number of kidnappings for cash grew by six per cent to at least 1,789, the insurer reported. More than half took place in Colombia which with Mexico accounted for two-thirds of all incidents.

The statistics were based on those cases about which Hiscox said it had obtained "reasonably reliable information and do not purport to represent the full extent of the problem".

In the former Soviet Union, the cash kidnappings shot up by 84 per cent to 105, while in Nigeria 24 were recorded compared to 10 in the previous seven years.

There were 17 incidents in India from five in 1998 and 10 in South Africa from only one recorded in the previous seven years.

"The combination of political unrest, lawlessness and poverty are key reasons for the rise in the number of kidnappings for money over most of the last decade." said Rob Davies, senior special risks underwriter at the firm.

But the increase was less pronounced than in recent years, he added, "possibly because business travellers are now more aware of the dangers in some of these countries and are better prepared".

Davies said that the size of ransom demanded varied widely from country to country and depended on the type of gang involved.

But an average expatriate businessman kidnapped in Colombia would be released for around $2 million, with ransom demands reaching anything up to $50 million.

Hiscox, an integrated Lloyd's of London insurance vehicle, works with the Control Risks Group and offers specialist kidnap and ransom insurance.