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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

Thursday, Sep. 19, 2002.

With Video, LUKoil in Talks With Kidnappers

Investigators have obtained a videotape of abducted LUKoil chief financial officer Sergei Kukura, and the oil company is negotiating with the kidnappers, local media reported Wednesday.

A source familiar with the investigation of the high-profile kidnapping confirmed the reports.

However, crime experts said they doubted that $6 million ransom demand for Kukura was the motivation behind the kidnapping, calling the amount ridiculously small and the entire case too theatrical.

Kukura was abducted by a group of armed men at a railroad crossing near Moscow on Thursday morning. Kukuras bodyguard and driver were given injections that knocked them out, and the attackers drove off in a car with police license plates, investigators say.

Russian newspapers reported Wednesday that LUKoil made contact with the kidnappers after receiving a videotape that confirmed they were holding Kukura. The reports, which cited unidentified sources in the Interior Ministry and Moscow region prosecutors office, said an unknown man telephoned LUKoil late last week and said the tape was buried in a cemetery outside Moscow. Investigators later dug it up. "Kukura was alive but didnt look well. He was either drugged or was simply feeling bad," Izvestia quoted a source in the investigation as saying.

On the recording, Kukura relayed the kidnappers demand for a ransom of $3 million and 3 million euros in small notes, according to media reports. They said LUKoil unsuccessfully held negotiations with the kidnappers Tuesday, without elaborating.

Gennady Deineka, deputy chief of the Moscow region police, denied Wednesday on RTR television that police had obtained the videotape.

Izvestia said the reporter who wrote the LUKoil article was called in for questioning Wednesday, Interfax reported.

Sergei Goncharov, a veteran of the Federal Security Services elite Alpha taskforce, said the few facts about the kidnapping did not add up. "The intentionally explicit behavior of the criminals doesnt coincide with the logic of a serious kidnapping, in which criminals aim to get maximum money at minimal risk," he said, referring to the fact that the abduction took place in daylight in a public area.

He also said he was puzzled that Kukuras bodyguard and driver, who trained in elite taskforces, had apparently failed to put up a fight. "They shouldnt give up to anybody, including the police," he said.

Magomed Tolboyev, a former head of the Dagestani Security Council who has dealt with a number of kidnappings, said kidnappers usually ask for ransom several weeks after an abduction, not within days as in the LUKoil case. Kidnappers want to wait for the case to fade from the media spotlight and for investigators to lose their initial zeal, he said.

Tolboyev and Goncharov said that a $6 million ransom was small for a person of Kukuras importance and wealth and that this may be a sign that the abduction was staged. "Criminals also understand that they will have to expose themselves to get a ransom, and all of the law enforcement agencies will jump on them then," Goncharov said.

He said the kidnappers would probably only be willing to take such a risk if they had struck a deal with LUKoil for protection.

A LUKoil spokesman refused to comment on the probe Wednesday.

By Nabi Abdullaev
Moscow Times

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