Page last updated at 15:14 GMT, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Bizarre case of Germany's kidnapper pensioners

Archive photo of Chiemsee lake, Germany
Lake Chiemsee is a popular German holiday destination

The conviction by a German court of four pensioners over the kidnapping of their financial advisor brings to an end a dramatic and extraordinary case, reports the BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Traunstein.

In the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, Lake Chiemsee is an island of peace and tranquillity. This is a popular German holiday destination. But it is also the scene of a bizarre crime.

The drama began some 4,000 miles away in America.

Two retired German couples had invested more than £2m (2.2m euros, $3m) in the US property market.

But the investment went sour. The bottom fell out of the market and they lost their money.

Who did the pensioners blame? Not the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

They held their own financial adviser, James Amburn, responsible, accusing him of stealing their savings.

Getaway car

They tried and failed to recover their investments through the courts. Then the group allegedly decided to take matters into their own hands.

According to the charges, 74-year-old retired architect Roland Kaspar was the ringleader.

Accountant James Amburn at court in court in Traunstein, Germany, 8 February 2010
James Amburn was taken from his home in Speyer

Together with a 60-year-old accomplice, he abducted Mr Amburn from his apartment in the German town of Speyer.

The financial adviser was allegedly gagged, his arms and feet were tied.

He was stuffed into a specially-constructed crate that was wheeled down to the getaway car.

The box was dumped into the car boot and the car sped away.

After a 300-mile (480km) journey it arrived at a holiday cottage in the village of Hart on Lake Chiemsee.

The other members of the gang were waiting, including Mr Kaspar's 80-year-old wife Sieglinde and two retired doctors.

Together, the charges say, they held Mr Amburn prisoner in the cellar.

For three days they tried to convince their financial adviser to compensate them. He claims to have been beaten during his incarceration.

Call for help

They allegedly made him to sign documents in which he promised to pay back the money.

To arrange payment, Mr Amburn was allowed to send a fax to his bank in Switzerland.

At that moment this already dramatic story took another twist.

"He signed a fax to his banker in Switzerland and he wrote in it 'Call Police'," says Harald Baumgaertl, a defence lawyer for one of the accused.

Defendants and lawyers in court in Traunstein, Germany, 8 February 2010
The pensioners initially tried to recover their money through the courts

"The pensioners read that fax but they didn't notice it. They didn't get it into their brain that there was a warning, a cry for help."

The Swiss bank raised the alarm.

A few hours later, at four o'clock in the morning, dozens of German police commandos stormed the building.

"The problem is," Harald Baumgaertl believes, "that most of the people who gave the investor money saw dollars in front of their eyes.

"Now they see nothing. It's important that people are very careful who they give their money to."

Around Traunstein, where the trial was held, there has been a mixed reaction to the case.

"Maybe they were motivated by the fact that, overall, the press was saying there were so many bad financial investors around," one man told me.

"Perhaps that made them believe they were on the right side of the law."

"They were very silly," another man said. "But I can understand the people who kidnapped the man. It was not correct that they lost so much money."

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