Armed men kidnap daughter of 'chemical weapons dealer'

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The Independent Online

Claudia Melchers, 37, was at home with her two young children and a neighbour when the men burst in. The daughter of Hans Melchers, the Dutch chemicals magnate, her family is one of the wealthiest in the Netherlands, with an estimated personal fortune of €460m (£301m).

The men bound and gagged the neighbour before abducting Ms Melchers, police in Amsterdam said. Their children, one of whom managed to untie the neighbour left, were not harmed.

Mr Melchers' company, Melchemie Holland BV has been at the centre of accusations of illegally supplying banned chemicals to Iraq, but has consistently denied intentionally violating export restrictions.

A statement posted on the company web site acknowledged that gas which could have been used to make chemical weapons, was inadvertently included in a shipment which formed part of an export deal with Iraq in 1984. But the company say they recalled the shipment.

It called the shipment "a one-time mistake" for which it paid a fine of 100,000 guilders (£30,000). In 1989 it was again under the media spotlight, again accused of supplying chemicals to Iraq. The company admits that it did so, but insists those chemicals were not under any international bans.

It was unclear whether the kidnapping was related to the company's dealings in the Middle East. A spokesman for the police in Amsterdam, Eric Vermeulen, would not reveal whether Interpol or the FBI were involved in the investigation, saying only: "We are doing everything that is necessary to find her."

The police commissioner of Amsterdam, Willem Woelders admitted that police where nonplussed as to her whereabouts. "At this moment we don't know where she is," he told Dutch television. "Anybody who has information about where she is should contact us so we can get her home safe."

Ms Melchers, who runs a catering company, is thought to be a potential successor to her father when he retires as chairman of the company. Her home was sealed off last night as police carried out a forensic search.

Although kidnapping is relatively rare in the Netherlands, there have been a number of high-profile cases during the past three decades. In 2003, Reinier Terwindt, the 16-year-old son of a wealthy Dutch businessman was kidnapped by a homeless man demanding €10m ransom. Belgian, Dutch and German police, working with the FBI freed the boy within five days.

In 1998, Hansje Boonstra-Raatjes, the a 62-year-old socialite and estranged wife of the chief executive of Royal Philips Electronics Co was kidnapped and later found beaten and handcuffed. No ransom was demanded.

In 1983, the beer tycoon, Freddie Heineken, was abducted. His kidnappers received a $10m (£5.4m) ransom payment for his release, before being eventually captured and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Three other high-profile kidnappings were reported in the 1980s, including the 1987 kidnapping and murder of grocery multimillionaire Gerrit-Jan Heijn.

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