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Saturday, 14 July, 2001, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Kidnapped Briton tells of terror
Joseph Raca and wife Aurelia
Joseph Raca returned to the UK on Saturday
A British businessman has spoken of his terror after he was threatened with torture and death by kidnappers in South Africa.

Joseph Raca, a former mayor of Northampton, was kidnapped when he arrived in Johannesburg a week ago, having been tricked into thinking he was going to complete a business deal.

A ransom of 20,000 was demanded from the 68-year-old's wife, but he was released after the kidnappers became nervous.

I faced a similar ordeal when I was 14, trying to protect my father from being shot

Joseph Raca
Kidnap victim
Police in South Africa have arrested five people after members of the gang tried to withdraw ransom money from a bank.

Giving an emotional account of his ordeal at a press conference on Saturday, Polish-born Mr Raca told how a gun was held to his head and kidnappers discussed how he would be killed and disposed of.

"One had a gun with a silencer and was putting it together in front of me.

Previous ordeal

"The other one stripped me half-naked and started frisking me.

"I really believed I was going to die and I was just trying to survive."

Joseph Raca
Mr Raca gave an emotional account of his ordeal
He said it was not the first time he had been threatened with a gun - the last time was as a schoolboy more than half a century ago.

Mr Raca was a victim of the so-called "419 Nigerian letter" scam which offers cash pay-outs in return for moving large amounts of money between countries.

But rather than getting rich, Mr Raca was met at the airport driven to a house many miles away, stripped and threatened.

He said he had "prayed and begged" for his life to be spared.

Polish plea

"I'm not ashamed to say that I crawled and begged.

"I faced a similar ordeal when I was 14, trying to protect my father from being shot."

I really believed I was going to die

Joseph Raca
When phoning his wife with the ransom demand, Mr Raca was able to ask her to contact the police by slipping into Polish.

Occasionally breaking down, Mr Raca, who arrived in Britain in 1952, said his captors had also threatened to cut off his ears and kneecap him.

British help

He was only released on Wednesday near the airport, after his kidnappers got nervous, said detectives.

He said he was left feeling "numb" after his release and could not sleep after his ordeal.

Mr Raca told reporters that no words could express his gratitude to the police officers who had worked for his release.

British police helped trace the kidnappers to the East Rand area of the city.

Detective Superintendent Chris Cross of Northamptonshire police said: "During Tuesday there were extended negotiations between a member of Mr Raca's family and the offenders.

Welcome news

"As a result of joint inquiries there was considerable police activity in the East Rand area.

"Just before 9:30pm on Tuesday we received the welcome news that Mr Raca was safe.

"He telephoned his family to say he had been dumped by his kidnappers."

Three suspects were arrested as they were about to collect some ransom money at a bank in Johannesburg.

Two others were arrested later.

Nigerian fraud

Mobile phones and a fax have been seized.

An officer from the National Crime Squad and one from Northamptonshire Police flew to South Africa.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) said recent success in fighting the Nigerian fraud meant criminals were sending the letters from other countries such as South Africa.

The correspondence appears to be from an "official" foreign government or agency which offers to transfer millions of pounds into the person's personal bank account.

More than 78,000 "419" letters were received in London alone over three years, in a confidence trick which could be costing Britain up to 150m a year.

The fraud gets its name from the 419 statute of the Nigerian penal code.

The BBC's Andy Tighe
"It's quite a remarkable story"
See also:

05 Dec 98 | Middle East
Internet scam offers millions
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