Jailed: pensioner gang who kidnapped financial adviser
Man who lost elderly clients €2.4m was abducted and beaten for days before he managed to escape, writes Tony Paterson from Berlin
The coded command was: "Willy, go and get the green file out of the car." It was the cue for the vanguard of an all-pensioner kidnapping team -- led by its 74-year-old ringleader -- to limp into action. Their target: the investment adviser they accused of losing their money during the financial crisis.
It also marked the start of a horrific four-day kidnap ordeal for James Amburn, a respectable American-born consultant, at the hands of a gang of five pensioners aged between 61 and 80. Mr Amburn was snatched from his home, driven 300 miles in the boot of a car, hidden in a cellar, interrogated and beaten. "I feared for my life -- I did not know whether I would survive," he recalled.
The final chapter of the story was played out in a Bavarian courtroom yesterday, when four of the pensioners were sentenced for the kidnapping and torturing of Mr Amburn after they lost investments worth €2.4m entrusted to him during the credit crunch. Roland K, the ringleader, was jailed for six years.
Karl Niedermeyer, the presiding judge, described their crimes as a "spectacular case of individuals taking justice into their own hands".
The events that led up to what is believed to be Germany's first kidnapping by pensioners began in the late 1990s.
Roland K and his wife Sieglinde started investing their capital in Florida's then booming property market via an investment company run by Mr Amburn. In the early years, the Ks reaped handsome returns and entrusted their adviser with even more cash.
But their investments crashed as a result of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and by early 2009, the Ks and three other pensioners who had invested were clamouring for their cash to be returned. Mr Amburn did not provide it.
Desperate for their money, Roland K and his accomplice Willy D (61) went to Mr Amburn's home in the German cathedral city of Speyer in June last year with a plan to kidnap him.
After their victim returned from the pub, they sat on him and bound him with yards of brown sticky tape they had bought the day before at their local DIY shop. The two pensioners then bundled the 57-year-old Mr Amburn into a specially made removal company carton they had brought with them.
Sweating profusely, the two men lifted the box on to a trolley and staggered past unsuspecting customers sitting outside cafes as they pushed it towards their silver Audi 8 saloon, parked some 500 yards across town.
They drove Mr Amburn to Roland K's holiday home on the shores of lake Chiemsee in Bavaria. On the way, Mr Amburn freed himself sufficiently to grab a crowbar lying in the boot and start smashing the boot. Roland K stopped, opened the boot, beat Mr Amburn for "wantonly damaging his car" and broke two of his ribs.
Mr Amburn was held semi-naked in a cellar in the house and taken out for interrogation sessions in the garage. These were also attended by Gerhard and Iris F, aged 63 and 66, a doctor couple who lived nearby and who had also lost money through Mr Amburn.
During the trial in the Bavarian city of Traunstein, Roland K tried repeatedly to play down the kidnapping and told disbelieving judges that Mr Amburn had been taken to Chiemsee so that the "mountain air might help him to think better".
Mr Amburn managed to convince his kidnappers that he could return some of their money if they allowed him to send a fax to a Swiss bank to organise a cash transfer. He sent a message with the fax which appealed to its recipients in a lightly coded form to "please call the police".
Within a matter of hours the Chiemsee house was surrounded by 40 heavily armed police from Bavaria's anti-terrorist unit. The five members of the "pensioner gang" were instantly arrested.
Four were convicted yesterday and given sentences ranging from an 18-month suspended sentence and the six-year jail term for Roland K for kidnapping and torturing Mr Amburn. The fifth pensioner, who is aged 67, will be tried later because of illness.