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Lima’s Latest Crime Trend: ‘Quickie Kidnappings’

May 10, 1996

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ American mining executive Donald de Wain Cross knows his worth in gold: 220 pounds. That’s what he paid Peruvian kidnappers for his freedom.

Cross, the owner of a gold mining company in Peru, is one of dozens of Lima residents snatched off the streets in recent months by armed gangs. It’s come to be called ``quickie kidnapping″ _ gangs nab wealthy-looking pedestrians, hold them for a few hours and release them after forcing them to dip into their wallets, bank accounts, or, in Cross’s case, their inventories.

The kidnapping spree is just the latest wave in an growing pattern of crime, and Lima residents worry it shows that criminal violence is replacing the guerrilla bombings common only a few years ago.

The abductions come in the midst of a government crackdown on crime. In January, President Alberto Fujimori named national hero Antonio Ketin Vidal, who captured Shining Path guerrilla leader Abimael Guzman in 1992, to lead the national police.

Nevertheless, the kidnappings continue.

During the last half of 1995, kidnappers snatched about 30 people off Lima streets and held them briefly for ransom, according to the Lima daily El Comercio. In January and February, at least another 20 people were abducted, according to the newspaper. Later figures were not available.

Besides business executives, victims have included the wife of a sports star, a bank secretary, the daughter of a retired general, a former Supreme Court judge, a jewelry factory manager, and the president of Peru’s Faucett airlines, Roberto Leigh.

The kidnappers who grabbed Leigh, who reportedly paid $50,000 for his freedom, told police after their capture that they trailed Leigh’s four-wheel-drive pickup for a half-hour to be sure he had no bodyguards. But they had no idea whom they were abducting.

Police Col. Raul Cubillas, head of the anti-kidnapping unit, said the kidnappers don’t belong to a single gang.

``These criminals get together when they are summoned by a leader who has a plan,″ he said. ``After an operation, each takes his share and it’s over. Later they’ll work for another gang leader.″

Ransoms have ranged from as little as $500, which one victim was forced to withdraw from her bank using her automatic teller card, to about $1 million, the value of the gold Cross handed over.

Cross, who was out of the country and unavailable for comment, was ordered by his kidnappers to send an employee to the mines to bring back the gold, according to police reports.

Analysts say the ``quickie kidnappings″ are becoming more frequent because they are easier than crimes like bank robbery, which was popular a couple years ago.

Banks reduced holdups by tightening security and financing a special police squad that uses SWAT-team tactics to confront robbers in the act.

``In the last year, 1995, there has been a renewal related specifically to quickie kidnappings, which involves common criminals who have found this is just practical,″ said attorney Carlos Landeo of Ceapaz, a non-profit Catholic human rights organization.

Since 1992, when Ketin Vidal captured Guzman, political terrorism has dropped off dramatically. Now, residents complain more about common crime.

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