The “dangerous” ringleader of an organised crime gang that kidnapped and tortured its victims with knives and boiling water in exchange for cash and expensive jewellery has been jailed for 25 years.
One of 27-year-old Fortune Lawson’s “terrified” victims, Mohamed Saroya, was kidnapped outside his home in London in November 2018 after he was seen wearing a Rolex watch in a Snapchat photograph and was lured into meeting Lawson on the pretence of discussing cannabis.
Judge Daniel Williams said that was nothing but a “ploy”, with Lawson, along with two others, instead intent on kidnapping and torturing Mr Saroya until the watch and a ransom was handed over.
The victim was terrorised for eight hours including being stabbed multiple times, his eyes gouged and having boiling water with sugar in it poured on his abdomen and groin, Cardiff Crown Court heard on Friday.
Mr Saroya was forced to call family members to arrange for money and the Rolex to be handed over before being released.
The court heard he was found by his cousin and his brother in a car park near Kenton railway station but he could not get in the car because of his “most dreadful” injuries.
He was taken to Northwick Park Hospital where he spent five days having treatment for injuries including stab wounds to his arm and back, burns to his thighs, arm and knee and cuts and bruises, and had to undergo surgery three months later.
Judge Williams said Lawson had “muscle” to carry out the kidnapping, and “gophers” on hand to collect the cash.
He said: “Mr Saroya had to go to hospital many times. The agony he endured is unimaginable.
“The extent of the torture broke him completely. It will change him and his family forever.”
Judge Williams said Lawson considered himself “untouchable” and relocated to Cardiff where he ran a food business and had a girlfriend, but he “didn’t care about either”.
In December 2020, Lawson struck again, kidnapping another victim, Ledio Ibrahimi on the pretence of smoking cannabis together.
Instead, he took him to a flat in the city and waterboarded and beat him and threatened him with guns and knives and an “attack dog”.
Mr Ibrahimi was forced to call a friend to arrange for £50,000 to be handed over, but the friend called South Wales Police to report a “life or death situation” and unbeknownst to the kidnappers, hostage negotiators were monitoring phone calls.
The victim was taken to another stronghold in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, where the horrifying ordeal continued before he was eventually rescued by armed police, who found him with cable ties on his wrists “shaking and crying”.
DNA evidence obtained from blood found in the Cardiff flat led police to identify another victim, Halim Vladi, who had also been held against his will and repeatedly assaulted at the same address.
Eight other members of the gang – all having been involved in at least one of the three plots – were also sentenced on Friday at the same court.
Davood Assadpour, 33, and Micaiah Marley, 30, were jailed for 15 years; Arnold Fumemeya and Alexis Mutesa, both 27, for 13 years; Gideon Lawson, 24, for 12 years; Ahmed Omar, 29, for nine years; Stephen Isaac, 66, for six years; and Denis Delishaj, 34, for eight years, as well as eight months for having a phone in prison.
Assadpour “positioned himself as the professor” of the gang and played a leading role in the torture of one of the victims, judge Williams said, and bragged about being “Robin Hood” to a prison guard.
Marley also played a leading role, threatening one of the victims with a gun and a sword, as did Fortune Lawson’s brother Gideon.
Fumumeya and Mutesa were the “muscle” who transported one of the victims from Cardiff to Hemel Hempstead.
The court heard Delishaj played a “significant role” in blackmailing Mr Ibrahimi, and while he was not part of the kidnap or torture, he was “at the other end of the phone” while it was taking place and acted as a translator and ransom negotiator to relay Lawson’s “vile demands”.
Omar acted as a “lookout” outside the Cardiff flat and “knew exactly” what the rest of the gang were doing inside, judge Williams said.
Isaac provided his flat in Hemel Hempstead as a “base” for the torture in return for drugs.
Judge Williams praised South Wales Police for their “painstaking work” in bringing the criminal gang to justice and noted the bravery of the victims in coming forward.
Detective Superintendent Darren George, head of South Wales Police Major Crime Investigation Team, said: “This has been one of the UK’s most complicated kidnap investigations in recent times and it has taken nearly three years to convict these nine individuals.
“We hope our investment into this crime and sentences handed down send a clear message to those intent on bringing this sort of violence to our streets.
“We will relentlessly pursue you with everything at our disposal and you will go to jail.”
Jenny Hopkins, Chief Crown Prosecutor, CPS Cymru-Wales, said: “The torture suffered by the victims in this case is almost beyond belief. In their pursuit of money, those responsible were seemingly willing to inflict maximum suffering.
“The ringleader and mastermind, Fortune Lawson, planned the extortions like military operations. He targeted men who trusted him and who he had identified as possessing high-value goods or significant amounts of money.
“Others in the gang had varying roles – but each was aware of the terrifying ordeal the victims were being put through. They all took steps to avoid being implicated, including wearing masks, balaclavas and gloves.
“Thankfully these dangerous and violent men have now been brought to justice, but the suffering of the victims and the impact of their injuries goes on.
“I want to express my utmost gratitude to the victims for their courage in making statements and giving evidence in this case which ultimately enabled us to secure convictions.”
The full list of crimes:
– Fortune Lawson: Convicted of two counts of kidnap, three counts of false imprisonment, one count of blackmail relating to two victims. Also convicted of one count of kidnap and one count of false imprisonment in relation to a third victim.
– Davood Assadpour: Convicted of two counts of kidnap, three counts of false imprisonment and one count of blackmail relating to two victims.
– Micaiah Marley: Convicted of two counts of kidnap, three counts of false imprisonment and one count of blackmail in relation to two victims.
– Arnold Fumumeya: Convicted of two counts of kidnap, three counts of false imprisonment, one count of blackmail relating to two victims.
– Alexis Mutesa: Convicted of two counts of kidnap, three counts of false imprisonment and one count of blackmail relating to two victims.
– Gideon Lawson: Convicted of two counts of kidnap, three counts of false imprisonment and one count of blackmail relating to two victims.
– Ahmed Omar: Convicted of two counts of kidnap, two counts of false imprisonment and one count of blackmail relating to two victims.
– Denis Delishaj: Convicted of one count of blackmail (relating to one victim) and one count of possessing a mobile phone in prison without authorisation.
– Stephen Isaac: Convicted of two counts of kidnap, three counts of false imprisonment and one count of blackmail relating to two victims.