MANHATTAN (CN) – Two English businessmen say they paid the Republic of Seychelles a $460,000 ransom after being held hostage for 4 months. The men claim in Federal Court that they were kidnapped by Irish mercenaries working for the Seychelles government and threatened with trumped-up drug and money-laundering charges that would have carried a 10-year prison sentence.
Seychelles, a tiny African island northeast of Madagascar, has been sponsoring kidnapping and piracy to stave off an “acute financial crisis” that has plagued the country since 2008, according to the complaint.
“Rather than trolling the world’s oceans for prey, the Seychelles government, in cooperation and conspiracy with Barclays Bank, has commandeered the world’s financial system and ransacked the bank accounts of legitimate businesses and law abiding citizens,” according to the complaint. “Defendants have added a new wrinkle to their crimes: they are now in the business of kidnapping for ransom.”
Stephen Scholes and Terence Stewart, British businessmen who were living in Spain’s Canary Islands, say they opened a bank account in Seychelles through Barclays. They planned to use the account for commissions earned from their businesses, Moretti Inversiones y Promociones and Guardian Environmental Holdings, which also are plaintiffs in the complaint.
After $1 million was transferred to their account in Seychelles, they say, Barclays highlighted their account “as a target for financial piracy by the FIU [co-defendant Financial Intelligence Unit of Seychelles].”
The bank then seized the money in the account, calling it “suspicious,” according to the complaint.
The 75-page complaint claims that Seychelles has engaged in a pattern of seizing money from bank accounts, having seized more than 100 accounts as of August 2009.
Scholes – accompanied by his vacationing family – and Stewart were in Seychelles at the time on personal business, and they say they were falsely imprisoned by the country’s Financial Intelligence Unit, which employs mercenaries, including former Irish police officers and former members of a “secret Irish military unit.”
Co-defendants Liam Hogan, Barry Galvin, Declan Barber, Joe Cully and John Heelan are among the Irish-born FIU agents who the businessmen say earn commissions for disregarding due process and engaging in and encouraging perjury.
“These Irish subcontractors engage in these activities with little or no conscience as to the damage that they are causing their victims – and with no foresight as to the crippling blow they are dealing to the reputation of the Seychelles banking industry,” according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs say they hired Bernard Georges, of Seychelles, to represent them while they were imprisoned, but say that Georges, now a defendant, turned out to be an FIU agent.
The FIU agents also threatened Scholes’ wife and daughters to coerce a false confession, according to the complaint.
After being held in prison for almost 4 months, the agents threatened to file false drug and money-laundering charges, punishable by 10-year prison sentences, according to the complaint. The FIU also planned to send the men to the notorious Montagne Posee Prison, renowned for barbarous and unsanitary conditions.
Sholes and Stewart say they pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and turned over $460,000 from their account, including $100,000 that went to Georges, then were released and deported.
The Scholes family and Stewart seek $5 million in damages and reimbursement, alleging fraud, kidnapping, extortion, theft, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and false arrest. They are represented by Craig Weiner with Hofheimer Gartlir & Gross.