Commission official suspected of staging own kidnap in Colombia

30.06.05 @ 09:44

  1. By Filipe Rufino

BRUSSELS - A European Commission official responsible for development projects in Colombia is under suspicion of having staged his own kidnap in April.

Carlos Ayala-Saavedra, a 59 year old Bolivian turned Spanish national, is being investigated by the European Commission and the Colombian authorities for allegedly staging his own kidnap to extort a €10 million ransom from the EU's coffers.

The story broke this week in the Colombian press, with the mainstream magazine Cambio publishing a three-page special on "the Spanish man's novel".

According to the Colombian and the Spanish press, Mr Ayala-Saavedra was allegedly kidnapped, together with his Colombian girlfriend Vergara Monsalve on the April 15 in the city of Cicuta, on the border with Venezuela, a coca-rich territory fought over by the Marxist FARC and the counter-revolutionary paramilitary forces.

He went there on an official mission to perform a social assessment study on the region's poor, writes the Spanish daily ABC.

According to Cambio, he was later found unharmed by Venezuelan soldiers on May 22 in Los Tres Pajaros, in the state of Apure, Venezuela, claiming he had escaped his captors and walked all night trough the jungle.

The soldiers escorted him to their base, until the head of the EU delegation in Colombia, Adrianus Koetsenruijter, came to pick him up. He was later transferred to Bogota and after that to Brussels for further interrogation.

Ms Monsalve was found earlier - on April 29 - and delivered, also unharmed, to a Red Cross official in Colombia.

When Colombian authorities interrogated Mr Ayala-Saavedra, they found many inconsistencies between his and Ms Monsalve's statements, and also found it suspicious that he was found without a scratch after claiming to have walked all night though the jungle to evade his captors.

Scamming the Commission

According to ABC, many foreign officials working in Colombia - a country where kidnapping is widespread - have generous insurance covering these situations.

Mr Ayala-Saavedra "wanted to retire with that money", a Colombian police source said to the Spanish paper.

According to Cambio magazine, the Colombian authorities found that Mr Ayala-Saavedra was being subject to an internal investigation over alleged misappropriation of funds from the Bogota office, and found documents proving that he had sold a Toyota Lexus with diplomatic plates, and pocketed the money.

"We got the feeling that his days as a European Commission official were counted", added a source close to the Colombian investigators, quoted in the magazine.

A joint account opened by Mr Ayala-Saavedra and his girlfriend has been frozen by the authorities.

Meeting the captors

A European Commission official met with the FARC soldiers, who named a ten million euro price for Mr Ayala-Saavedra's "life", and with whom he maintained telephone contact in the days after, writes Cambio.

The official later informed the rebels that Brussels would not pay a ransom.

Speaking to the press on Wednesday (29 June), a European Commission spokesperson said an internal investigation is on the way and a report will be submitted "to the appropriate authorities" once it is complete.

"At the moment the commission cannot draw any conclusions, and, until proven guilty, everybody is innocent", she underlined.

Mr Ayala-Saavedra is currently on sick leave.

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