Jailed: pensioner gang who kidnapped financial adviser
Man who lost elderly clients £2.2m was abducted and beaten for days before he managed to escape
Wednesday 24 March 2010
The coded command was: "Willy, go and get the green file out of the car." It was the cue for the vanguard of an all-pensioner kidnapping team – led by its 74-year-old ringleader – to limp into action. Their target: the investment adviser they accused of losing their money during the financial crisis.
It also marked the start of a horrific four-day kidnap ordeal for James Amburn, a respectable American-born consultant at the hands of a gang of five pensioners aged between 61 and 80. Mr Amburn was snatched from his home, driven 300 miles in the boot of a car, hidden in a cellar, interrogated and beaten. "I feared for my life – I did not know whether I would survive," he recalled.
The final chapter of the story was played out in a Bavarian courtroom yesterday, when four of the pensioners were sentenced for the kidnapping and torturing of Mr Amburn after they lost investments worth €2.4m (£2.2m) entrusted to him during the credit crunch. Roland K, the ringleader, was jailed for six years.
Karl Niedermeyer, the presiding judge, described their crimes as a "spectacular case of individuals taking justice into their own hands".
The events that led up to what is believed to be Germany's first kidnapping by pensioners began in the late 1990s. Roland K and his wife Sieglinde started investing their capital in Florida's then booming property market via an investment company run by Mr Amburn. In the early years, the Ks reaped handsome returns and entrusted their adviser with even more cash. But their investments crashed as a result of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and by early 2009, the Ks and three other pensioners who had invested were clamouring for their cash to be returned. Mr Amburn did not provide it.
Desperate for their money, Roland K and his accomplice Willy D, 61, went to Mr Amburn's home in the German cathedral city of Speyer in June last year with a plan to kidnap him.
After their victim returned from the pub, they sat on him and bound him with yards of brown sticky tape they had bought the day before at their local DIY shop. The two pensioners then bundled the 57-year-old Mr Amburn, his mouth gagged with tape, into a specially made removal company carton they had brought with them.
Sweating profusely, the two men lifted the box on to a trolley and staggered past unsuspecting customers sitting outside cafes as they pushed it towards their silver Audi 8 saloon parked some 500 yards across town.
"If anybody has asked what was inside, we had an answer ready," admitted Roland K. "We were going to tell them it contained a marble statue."
They drove Mr Amburn to Roland K's holiday home on the shores of lake Chiemsee in Bavaria. On the way, Mr Amburn freed himself sufficiently to grab a crowbar lying in the boot and start smashing the boot. Roland K stopped, opened the boot, beat Amburn for "wantonly damaging his car" and broke two of his ribs.
Mr Amburn was held semi-naked in a cellar in the house and taken out for interrogation sessions in the garage. These were also attended by Gerhard and Iris F, aged 63 and 66, a doctor couple who live nearby and who had also lost money through Mr Amburn. "I thought they were going to take me out into the woods and shoot me," Mr Amburn told the court.
During the trial in the Bavarian city of Traunstein, Roland K tried repeatedly to play down the kidnapping and told disbelieving judges that Mr Amburn had been taken to Chiemsee so that the "mountain air might help him to think better".
He claimed that the pensioner gang had held their captive in an "extra guest room" in the cellar and that they held "meetings" about their missing investments in the "office/garage" of the house. "We treated him well. He was always given an excellent three-course dinner by my wife," insisted Roland K.
However, the kidnappers did allow their chain-smoking captive to take cigarette breaks in the garden. Thinking he had been left unnoticed, Mr Amburn leapt over the garden wall in his underpants one rainy afternoon and ran down the street in the wealthy Bavarian resort town shouting: "Help – I've been kidnapped."
His abductors followed in hot pursuit in their silver Audi shouting: "Stop that man, he's a burglar." The well-to-do burghers of Chiemsee preferred to believe their own neighbours and promptly grabbed Mr Amburn and pinned him to the pavement before handing him back to his pensioner abductors.
Back in his cellar prison, Mr Amburn managed to convince his kidnappers that he could return some of their money if they allowed him to send a fax to a Swiss bank to organise a cash transfer. He was able to send a message with the fax which appealed to its recipients in a lightly coded form to "please call the police".
Within a matter of hours the Chiemsee house was surrounded by 40 heavily armed police from Bavaria's anti-terrorist unit. The five members of the "pensioner gang" were instantly arrested.
Four were convicted yesterday and given sentences ranging from an 18-month suspended sentence and the six-year jail term for Roland K for kidnapping and torturing Mr Amburn. The fifth pensioner, who is aged 67, will be tried later because of illness.
Backlash: Violence and the financial crisis
* The highest-profile victim of the backlash against the bankers in Britain was former RBS boss Sir Fred Goodwin.
Windows at his Edinburgh home were smashed and a black Mercedes car in his drive vandalised. Emails sent from a group claiming responsibility for the attack said they were angry that rich people were living in luxury while ordinary people lost their jobs. "This is a crime. Bank bosses should be jailed. This is just the beginning," said one of the emails. Sir Fred became the target of public anger after details emerged of his generous pension deal. He took early retirement from the stricken bank that needed a £20bn bailout.
* The US insurer AIG received death threats, including a vow to garrotte staff with piano wire, amid fury over bonuses received by top executives.
The firm was given a $170bn government bailout following its near collapse, and there was an angry response from the public after the firm paid bonuses of $1m or more to 73 executives who stayed at AIG in the wake of the financial crisis. Armed guards were stationed outside the company's offices in Connecticut and some employees refused to go to work because of the threats.
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