Married couple jailed for kidnap of five-year-old Sahil Saeed


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The Independent Online

A married couple have been sentenced by a Spanish court to 10 years in jail each for kidnapping a five-year-old British boy.

A panel of three judges at the Provincial Court in Tarragona found Muhammad Zahid Saleem and Gianina Monica Neruja guilty of snatching Sahil Saeed, of Oldham, at gunpoint in Pakistan in March 2010.

The court heard that Saleem and Neruja had made threatening calls to Sahil's family and travelled to Paris to collect the £110,000 ransom from one of his uncles.

Saleem, who hails from Pakistan, was found not guilty of conspiracy, robbery in conjunction with a crime of trespassing and eight charges of unlawful arrest. Neruja, his Romanian wife, was also cleared of conspiracy.

Their Pakistani flatmate, Khawaja Fawaaz Munawar, was found not guilty of kidnap of a minor and conspiracy.

Khawaja, who was living in Spain as an illegal immigrant when he was arrested, was charged under the name Muhammad Sageiz.

Sahil was snatched by an armed gang at his grandmother's home during a holiday with his father in Jhelum, in Pakistan's Punjab province.

Four masked men carrying AK-47 assault rifles and grenades tied up and beat members of the family and ransacked the house before making off with the child.

An international police operation was launched and Sahil was released in Pakistan after the £110,000 ransom was dropped off by his uncle, Tauseer Ahmed, in Paris and collected by Saleem and Neruja.

In their written sentence, the panel of judges presided over by Jose Manuel Sanchez said: "It is evident that both Muhammad Zahid Saleem and Gianina Monica Neruja were in contact with the people who carried out the kidnapping in Pakistan.

"They assumed the role of obtaining the payment of the ransom and, once they believed they were safe in their home in Tarragona, two days after the ransom had been paid, Muhammad Zahid Saleem gave the order to free the child the following day.

"There was a direct link between the payment of the ransom, a call made by Saleem to the boy's uncle and father, indicating that the money was correct, and a call to someone in Pakistan telling them to 'do the job tomorrow', and the freeing of the child the following day."

During Sahil's 13-day ordeal, Saleem made phone calls warning the boy's family that he would be killed and parts of his body would be sent to them if they did not pay the ransom.

Neruja instructed Sahil's father, Raja Naqqash Saeed, to travel to Paris with the ransom money and warned him not to make any "mistakes" or else "everything would turn out bad" for his son.

It was finally decided that Sahil's uncle, Mr Ahmed, would take the money to Paris, where he was accompanied by officers from Greater Manchester Police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

Mr Ahmed told the court that his sister, Sahil's mother Akila, had "gone through hell as a parent" during the kidnapping.

After collecting the money, Saleem and Neruja went shopping and visited relatives before driving back to Spain.

Spanish police recovered £103,690 and 3,650 euros in addition to a lamp used to recognise counterfeit money from the flat where they were living.

The judges heard that Saleem, a former interpreter at the Provincial Court in Tarragona, had been part of a "criminal clan" in Pakistan and was wanted in connection with 15 murders there.

His brother, Muhammad Nasir, was also arrested in Pakistan in connection with Sahil's kidnapping.

Nasir was killed in a shootout when a third brother, Muhammad Naveed, and their cousin Mudassar Safeer tried to free him from custody.

In March last year, a Pakistani court sentenced one of the men who carried out the kidnapping, Imran Husain, to 60 years in prison.

During the trial, Raja Naqqash Saeed explained that his son has been left traumatised by the kidnapping and is having difficulties at school.

In a statement today, he said: "Myself and my family are very happy with the outcome in Spain.

"I would especially like to thank GMP (Greater Manchester Police) for their hard work and support with the safe return of my son.

"I would also like to thank my family for their support and to all the communities that came together to pray for Sahil's safe return."

Detective Chief Inspector Dave Pester, from GMP, said the result would offer Sahil's family "further comfort" after the conviction of Husain in Pakistan last year.

He added: "This was a challenging investigation which spanned a number of countries and has involved a lot of different agencies.

"Our valued relationship with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, built up from years of experience and partnership working, was pivotal."