It sounds like a plot line for a movie. Four disgruntled senior citizens kidnap and hold hostage their financial advisor after losing a bundle in the US property market. Except it’s not a movie: Two married couples in the German state of Bavaria are accused of the crimes. They’re now on trial (Courtroom photo: Jörg Koch/AFP/Getty Images). Marco Werman finds out more from Bavarian Radio reporter Annette Kuglar.
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MARCO WERMAN: So here’s a good plot for a movie. Four disgruntled senior citizens kidnap and hold hostage their financial advisor after losing a bundle in the U.S. property market. Great screen play idea, but once again, life beats Hollywood to the punch because this is for real. Two elderly married couples in Germany are accused of the crimes. Annette Kuglar is a reporter at Bavarian Radio. She’s in Munich. So Annette, who are these alleged senior citizen kidnappers?
ANNETTE KUGLAR: They were two couples that both live in the very south of Germany in upper Bavaria close to the Alps. They’re all aged between 64 and 74. All of them were, I would say, financially more or less well settled. One man worked as a medical doctor, the other formerly owned a construction company in Bavaria. And now they’re accused of hostage taking and grievous bodily harm.
WERMAN: When did this happen?
KUGLAR: It happened in June 2009 when two of the seniors traveled to Speyer where the financial advisor Minta Unwa lives and forced him into his flat, tying him up, putting celotape over his mouth and forcing him into a large box in which they carried him back to upper Bavaria. There they locked him into the basement of their house and well did something like a trial on him, sitting around him and asking him questions. What happened with our money? And forced him to give it back to them. He had to send a fax to his financial advisors and on this fax he managed to hide a secret message which more or less said call the Police. Police is a word with a double meaning in German. So the financial advisor on the other side of the fax realized, okay there must be a problem and then called the Police and then story took a more or less bizarre end. The Police arrived at the basement and had to blow up part of the door to liberate the prisoner.
WERMAN: That’s an incredible story. Were these two retired couples holding this financial advisor at gun point or anything? How did they manage to force him to do all this?
KUGLAR: They tied him up actually. They never threatened him with a gun or anything. There was obviously physical violence, there were two broken ribs, so at the moment, the trial is on again for the seniors. They say no we never used any violence, but obviously there were injuries, there were hurts, there was blood, so they weren’t very gentle with him. I can go that far.
WERMAN: Why did they do this? It seems like he lost some money on their behalf, but how much did they lose and just, they must have been really angry.
KUGLAR: It is an amount of 2.4 million we’re speaking about at the moment, which they invested in real estate properties.
WERMAN: Two point four million Euros, that’s a little over three and a half million dollars. Why did they do this?
KUGLAR: I think it’s a mixture out of greed, but then also frustration. They saved a lot of money, they worked hard for their money, invested it hopefully wisely, and then just lose it by the fault of another person. And the trial going on at the moment against those four seniors, they even sound like, it’s not our fault, we are the victims and he is the guilty person. It’s almost like a twist in their heads that they feel treated so unjust by the situation which is also part of the financial situation in Germany and all the world at the moment. People lose things without having done anything. You can feel the frustration very strongly at the trial going on in Bavaria at the moment.
WERMAN: And where is public sympathy falling? Is it falling for this financial advisor or do people sincerely feel bad for these senior citizens?
KUGLAR: I think it’s very much in the middle. It’s really that people feel bad, they know you must not do self-administered justice against anybody, obviously you must not lock him in and threaten him. But then again, they also feel like maybe a small spark of truth in that, of understanding that somebody gets so frustrated of losing so much of his life, of what he built up, that there’s also maybe a little spark of sympathy in all of that.
WERMAN: Nobody kidnapped Bernard Madoff here in the United States, although I’m sure there were a few people who would have liked to, but has the media in Germany cast this financial advisor as their own Bernard Madoff or is that too strong?
KUGLAR: Everybody knows and from the trial going on it’s also become clear that this financial advisor isn’t a choirboy. There are several investigations going on against him and he will probably, maybe get his own trial in the future. But at the moment the media tries to be fair and says well, it’s not right what he has done, and it is terrible that those financial disasters keep going on on large and small scale levels, but then again, well you must not do self-administered justice and not do harm against anybody.
WERMAN: Annette Kuglar reporter with Bavarian Radio. She spoke to us from Munich. Thanks so much for your time.
KUGLAR: You’re very welcome.
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