A British businessman has been freed from a week-long kidnap ordeal that began when he was lured into flying to South Africa to hand over his bank details to a notorious Nigerian crime syndicate.
Josef Raca, the owner of a Northampton-based import/ export company and a former mayor of the town, was flown back to England yesterday following an international undercover police operation. The 68-year-old father of two had been kidnapped at Johannesburg Airport a week earlier after agreeing to meet a man and a woman to discuss a financial deal.
Speaking about his ordeal, Mr Raca told how his captors held him at gunpoint, threatening to cut off his ears and kneecap him if he failed to give them the Pin numbers for his credit cards.
"I don't mind telling you I was very frightened," he said. "I crawled and begged and kept trying to persuade them not to kill me."
Mr Raca's harrowing experience began when he replied to a letter inviting him to take part in a "business transaction" that would have involved him transferring large sums of money between countries through his own bank account in return for a hefty fee. The proposed deal has been used by West Africa-based fraudsters in what is known as the "419 Nigerian letter" scam for years.
After flying out to Johannesburg to meet the letter's authors, he was kidnapped and his family ordered to pay a £20,000 ransom. When Mr Raca's wife, Aurelia, was telephoned with the demand last week, Northamptonshire police contacted their South African counterparts.
Mr Raca was freed on Wednesday after three of the kidnap suspects were tracked to a Johannesburg bank, where they were attempting to withdraw ransom money. He was flown back to England on Friday, landing at Heathrow yesterday morning.
Speaking from the Raca family's home yesterday, his daughter, Barbara, said only: "We are obviously very happy that he is back with us again."
Police in South Africa have been trying to break the Nigerian-led financial racket for years. Dubbed the "419" scam after the relevant section of Nigeria's penal code, it involves people being sent letters saying a foreign government or official agency is seeking to store large sums in their bank account. They are then stung for various "advance fees" and "taxes".
More than 78,000 such letters have been received in London alone over the past three years, and the multinational confidence trick could be costing Britain up to £150m a year.
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