ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 52
Financial Times  


KIDNAP - Emerging challenge in executive protection

Corporate Security

By Damith Kurunduhewa

The human body and a business body have something in common - the head. The slightest damage to our head affects the entire body critically and therefore needs careful protection. Similarly the top executive echelon of a business organization needs protection against contemporarily protective odds that is becoming more a reality than a prediction. The message is plain, straight and strong, “Guard your head to guard your body”.

One such threatening element in emergence is kidnapping. In the past, we experienced the shocking kidnap scenarios in the form of Ralph Bultjens– an intellectual and G.C. Wickremasinghe – a premier corporate leader. Then recently it was the turn of an immediate family member of a serving senior police officer - in Colombo.

The nation was stunned some years ago, when a relative kidnapped a boy by the name of Saman Kumara and killed him while in captivity in Matugama. It was only last week, a kidnap was reported in which a father had abducted his son in order to get a ransom of Rs.1 million from his wife, who was the mother of the abducted boy.

In another incident, a southern businessman paid a ransom in secret to get his son safely released from a criminal gang, and the same boy was abducted soon after by another criminal gang on a higher ransom demand. The secret has somehow been leaked out and the second gang identified the soft and smooth extortion potentiality in this wealthy tycoon.

A few years ago, there was a dramatic encounter when a masked and armed gang invaded the premises of a multi national company in the night, and stormed the executive living quarters located within a secured area. They dragged out the teenage son of an expatriate - before the security team of the complex rushed in and managed to force the surrender of the gang.

Just a few days ago, a sister of an abducted Sri Lankan businessman was shown on TV – screaming and worshipping – down on her knees and keeping her hands in namaskar position to the camera – pleading for the safe return of her – brother. Then it is reported - that the ransom seeking gangs manage to get the details of wealth of the potential victims through visa eligibility proof and also through bank deposit data, obtained illegally via corrupt source tapping.

Official crime statistics in 2006 suggest an approximate 1,200 abductions in Sri Lanka – an average of three kidnappings each day. These statistics are only REPORTED incidents. What is not reported and also settled ‘behind the scenes’ could obviously be more. It is debated that we are not as bad as the Latin American region where kidnapping is a principal crime occurrence or even India where 13, 000 child abduction cases have been reported in last 3 years. Yet, a proportionate analysis makes us realize that the threat is real and - on an upward curve here in Sri Lanka as well.

Kidnapping is now converting into a profit motivated criminal phenomenon. It is an illegitimate growth industry in motion - world over. At the early stages, most kidnappings in the world were political in nature and by connectivity - terrorist or otherwise. The tragic killing of Aldo Moro of Italy after 54 days in captivity in 1978 was one such politically motivated abduction.

The potentiality for rapid earning of money in colossal sums by way of abduction serves as the core criminal motivation. In fact, it is commercializing an ultra aggressive political tool in to a profit driven modification. Thus, the premier conglomerates and their top executives undoubtedly are becoming vulnerable.

The Argentine conglomerate Bunge & Born once paid a ransom of US $ 60 million in order to ensure the safe exchange` of two B&B business executives – which could well be the highest (reported) ransom ever paid by a business organization. Such was the importance of their two executives for the business. If they were NOT saved, the negative business impact would have been greater and un-erasable too.

“My company is a blue chip and I’m a senior business executive there. My wife drives to office in her car, my children study at a leading international school and we live in an upscale residential neighbourhood. My social contacts too are well to do people and we lead a reasonable wealthy life. We are a happy family. But, could this very same life standard bring us trouble one day?” was the puzzled expression of a concerned executive. More than him, he feared the kidnapping of his wife or kids by criminals and the pressure of a demand for a huge ransom.

These are reality fears, and not illusions. We cannot - any more - entertain the perception that “it’s remote. It will not happen to me”. As in the case of terrorist aerial bombing - for every tragedy - there’s a first time and a first victim. If and when it happens, a business or a family finds it too sour to digest.

The protection of business executives against kidnapping is a need in modern commerce. By clamping the avenues for a kidnap scenario, a business saves a great quantity of management energy, over sweating effort, tensed up time, company money and hard earned brand image. While preventive education and response training for top executives and their families serve as a MUST element, the business should design the crisis operating approach, customized on efficient anti kidnap management.

The determination should be to break the negativity before it breaks our life, family and the business. Protection is never final. If we are well protected today, we need to figure out a creative way to design better security tomorrow. Never be caught napping while the criminal is planning a kidnap scenario as sung in the fabulous Boney M melody - Ma Baker – IT’S YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE!! The author is Strategic Security Specialist / Pragmatic Trainer & CEO of Strategic Security Solutions. He can be reached at –

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.