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$2.5 Million Ransom Paid to Free Brazilian in Kidnap-Plagued Rio : Crime: At least 26 captives have been ransomed this year. A newspaper calls the city the 'hostage of organized crime.'

June 23, 1990|WILLIAM R. LONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RIO DE JANEIRO — A $2.5-million ransom, reportedly paid for the release of a prominent Rio executive and friend of President Fernando Collor de Mello, focused attention here Friday on how lucrative an industry kidnaping has become in Brazil.

The Thursday night release of Roberto Medina, 42, made banner headlines in morning papers, crowding news of the Iran earthquake--despite the fact that reports about kidnaping have become routine this year in Brazil.

In Rio alone, according to one tally, at least 26 kidnap victims have been ransomed since the beginning of the year, for a total of more than $12 million. The Medina ransom was the biggest, but three others were $1 million or more each.

Part owner of the Atplan advertising agency, Medina is said to have helped guide Collor in his successful presidential campaign last year. Medina also organized and promoted a 1985 music festival called "Rock in Rio," which drew more than a million spectators, and a 1980 performance by Frank Sinatra in Rio's huge Maracana stadium.

Medina's brother is a member of Congress from Collor's National Reconstruction Party. Jose Colagrossi Neto, the party's national chairman, participated in ransom negotiations.

Medina was abducted June 6 by 10 armed men in front of his firm's headquarters. In their first telephone contact with his family, the kidnapers identified themselves as members of the Red Command, a Rio crime syndicate notorious for well-organized armed robberies.

They demanded $5 million in ransom.

A week after the kidnaping, police arrested a man they said was one of its planners, Nazareno Barbosa Tavares, 31. "Professor Nazareno," as Tavares is known, is a physical education instructor who once worked as a conditioning trainer for former military President Joao Figueiredo.

Tavares told police that Medina was being held by Luiz Goncalves de Oliveira, 25, identified as a member of the Red Command. During the week, police secretly detained some of De Oliveira's relatives, including his mother and a brother, and reportedly used them to pressure for Medina's release.

Some reports said state legislator Ana Maria Rattes personally went to a high-security prison and asked a jailed leader of the Red Command to lower the ransom demand from $5 million to $2.5 million.

"Rio de Janeiro is the hostage of organized crime," the newspaper Jornal do Brasil said in a front-page article Friday.

A report issued this week by Rio de Janeiro state investigative police said nine kidnaping gangs have been identified in the city in the past two years. Police have broken up two of the bands, but the other seven continue to operate, the report said.

Another police report, leaked to the press at the beginning of June, said at least eight state policemen are participating in kidnaping gangs. Federal police chief Romeo Tuma said the wave of kidnapings and the "probable involvement" of police is frightening.

"What security does the family of a kidnaped person have if a policeman is involved?" he asked rhetorically.

This week, a Sao Paulo publisher issued a new manual, "Executive Security--Anti-Kidnap Notions." And the U.S. Consulate here issued a list of precautions recommended for American residents. The consulate advised that although Americans as a group are not a specific target of kidnapers, everyone should review their security measures.

The national Senate approved proposed legislation Wednesday that would increase minimum prison terms for kidnaping from one year to six.

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