Thursday, June 30, 2005

Maybe they should all arrange their own kidnapping

A delightful, if trivial, story has emerged from the Colombian newspaper Cambio and the Spanish ABC [links are for our Hispanophone readers] via the EUObserver.

In April Carlos Ayala-Saavedra, a Bolivian turned Spanish national, who is the EU’s official in charge of development projects in Colombia, disappeared together with his girlfriend, Vergara Monsalve, in Cicuta, on the Venezuelan border. (Some reports described him as having a wife and four children in Spain, but that has never stopped anyone.)

With Colombia’s second largest rebel-group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), active in the area, kidnapping was suspected and there was an apparent demand for a ransom of €10 million from the EU.

EU officials negotiated with rebel FARC soldiers but refused to pay the ransom.

Things, however, were not quite what they seemed. On April 29, Ms Monsalve was found on April 29, unharmed and taken to Red Cross official. She was questioned by Colombian security officials.

Then, on May 22 in Los Tres Pajaros, in the state of Apure, Venezuela, Mr Ayala-Saavedra was found by the Venezuelan army. He claimed to have escaped from his kidnappers and walked to freedom through the jungle, though the soldiers and the Colombian security officers who flew in to talk to him, found it rather odd that he had not a scratch on him. It is rare for people to be able to struggle through the jungle, with no protective clothing and emerge completely unscathed.

It did not stop there. The Colombian authorities found numerous discrepancies between his story and that of Ms Monsalve.

Further investigation uncovered the fact that
“… Mr Ayala-Saavedra was being subject to an internal investigation over alleged misappropriation of funds from the Bogota office, and found documents proving that he had sold a Toyota Lexus with diplomatic plates, and pocketed the money.”
With what might be described as a very dry humour, a “source close to the Colombian investigators” told Cambio magazine:
“We got the feeling that his days as a European Commission official were counted.”
[Presumably, the EUObserver translator meant numbered.]

The couple’s joint account has been frozen, Mr Ayala-Saavedra has gone on “sick leave” and there is an internal investigation going on into what appears to be a common or garden scam. We shall see what it uncovers.

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