Kidnappers release children unharmed

Saturday, February 22, 2003

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Kidnappers released three daughters of the top executive for the Reuters news agency in South and Central America after holding them for nine days, authorities said Friday. The girls were unharmed.

Ricardo Garcia Diniz, Reuters' senior company officer for Latin America, paid the equivalent of about $11,000 Thursday for the children's release, said Mauricio Rodrigues, a spokesman for the Sao Paulo state police's anti-kidnapping team.

The kidnapping was first reported in Friday's edition of the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, and Rodrigues said the account was accurate.

The girls -- ages 4, 8 and 10 -- were kidnapped Feb. 12 as a driver took them and their nanny to school, the newspaper reported. Shortly after leaving Diniz' home in a wealthy neighborhood, the car was blocked in front and back by two cars.

Men armed with handguns got out of one car and took the children away, said Godofredo Bittencourt, head of the state police organized crime unit. Others got into Diniz' car and drove the nanny and driver around the city for an hour, eventually dropping them off at a subway station.

The kidnappers initially demanded more than $1.1 million, O Estado reported.

Police were informed, and the family was assisted by authorities in negotiating the ransom, Bittencourt said.

After the payment was made Thursday night, the children were released on the side of a Sao Paulo highway.

Police detained a suspect Tuesday and were holding him, though the suspect denied involvement. Bittencourt said police believe five or six men were involved in the kidnapping.

"For obvious reasons, we've kept a very strong silence on this," Peter Thomas, a Reuters spokesman in London, said Friday before referring all questions about the incident to the company's New York office.

A Reuters spokeswoman in New York, Nancy Bobrowitz, said the company had not been involved in negotiations "other than to be in close contact with Ricardo, and we did not make any payments."

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