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International Kidnapping As A Business

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International kidnappings are on the rise and have become one of the fastest growing 'industries' in the world. This paper looks at kidnapping as a thriving business.

International Kidnapping as a Business


The kidnapping and ransom of individuals for profit has dramatically increased in the past decade throughout the world. While the majority of victims are wealthy businessmen, more recently, the average tourist has become a target for kidnappers looking for monetary and material gain. In recent years, kidnappers have also become more organized and are demanding more money for the safe return of hostages.

Why has international kidnapping been on the increase? The simple answer is because it has become an extremely profitable form of business transaction for the kidnappers. This paper analyzes and scrutinizes international kidnapping as a thriving business.

The Business of Kidnapping

Kidnappings around the world have typically had one of two major goals: publicity for a local political cause or as a form of 'fund-raising' for the kidnappers. Recently, kidnappings for political reasons have been on the decrease, whereas kidnapping for profit has seen a dramatic increase.

A prime example of this trend is in Colombia. According to writer David Williams, Colombia is considered to be the kidnapping capital of the world, with rival guerrilla and paramilitary groups consistently abducting civilians -- including businessmen, tourists and aid workers (2001, para.1). The ransom money obtained from these activities is used primarily to finance a 37-year civil war in Colombia (Williams, 2001, para.1).

The U.S. State Department estimates that more than 3,000 people are kidnapped in Colombia each year (Williams, 2001, para.2). Most kidnap victims are Colombians who are either wealthy or who can at least come up with a few thousand dollars. And, according to Williams, although the kidnappings are most often performed by political dissidents, the motivation for the kidnappings is usually money, not politics (para.11). Mike Ackerman, founder of The Ackerman Group, a Miami, Florida-based firm that consults companies in kidnap and ransom cases, said "They are political groups that do the kidnapping, but they're out for money. The political groups have to support themselves and one of the ways that they support themselves is through these ransoms" (Williams, 2001, para.12).

Others have echoed this opinion as well. "It's strictly a business for the experienced groups in Latin America; they don't want to harm the victim," said Chris Marquet who heads the risk assessment division of Kroll Associates, a leading international security firm. "You play the game, the guy's going to come back." (Wall, 1997, para.5).

Colombia is not the only country to be plagued with this increase in kidnappings for profit. Ransom kidnappings are becoming more common in Mexico, Central America, Brazil, Chechnya, the Philippines, Haiti, and many other developing countries throughout the world (Williams, 2001, para.13).

A dramatic account of the increase in global abductions can be found in Ransom: The Untold Story of International Kidnapping by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach (1998). This book focuses on kidnappings that took place throughout the world between 1995 and 1997. Auerbach's writes of kidnappings that occurred in places like Kashmir, Papua New Guinea, and others. And, again, although many kidnappings are politically motivated, Auerbach asserts that a growing number are simply fund-raising exercises by guerrillas or common criminals (1998). For example, when a new rebel group, the Popular Revolutionary Army, surfaced in Mexico in 1996, experts concluded that the group financed itself through kidnappings carried out over the previous two years.

Auerbach emphasizes that one of the causes of the worldwide increase in kidnappings for profit is that billions of dollars in foreign investment has only marginally assisted the poor throughout the Third World. This has created a growing resentment of the elites who have hoarded much of the wealth (Auerbach, 1998). Therefore, often times, kidnappings for profit throughout the Third World are a backlash by the poor against the elites, in an attempt to even the score by obtaining some of their money.

Moreover, there is increasing risk of kidnapping for tourists and expatriate executives throughout the world. This is particularly so for Americans, who are perceived as rich even when they are not. Their substantial numbers--3.2 million living overseas and 50 million traveling internationally each year--have left Americans more at risk than citizens of other countries (The Expatriation Trend, 1997-2003, para.6). In many countries, the kidnapping of business people, especially American executives and mid-level managers, as well as tourists has become a thriving business. For example, during the last several years, the FARC and ELN, two Colombian terrorist groups, have extorted more than $632 million from foreign companies and individuals (Clancy, 2001, para.4).

In fact, the problem of kidnapping has become so bad internationally that several insurance and security companies are offering either international kidnapping insurance or, at least, detailed instructions on how to avoid a kidnapping. This too has become a thriving business. According to Fielding Worldwide, Inc., a typical KRE (Kidnap, Ransom and Extortion) insurance policy has a $1 million limit (1998, para.2). An annual policy would cost between US$7,000 in Brazil or up to a maximum of US$26,000 in Colombia -- this is an incredible cost (Fielding Worldwide, Inc., 1998, para.2). Corporations usually buy blanket policies that cover all employees, but often business is intertwined with extended family from grandparents down to grandchildren (Fielding Worldwide, Inc., 1998, para.2). Therefore, often the entire family must be included in the policy to ensure maximum coverage.

Since kidnappers are aware of these KRE policies, the insurance policies have inadvertently created a way for them to make even more money than if they were to kidnap a typical man off the street. So, is it necessary



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