Brazil: Soccer families seized in kidnapping wave

Americas Uncategorized

Brazilian football clubs are setting up security of record levels for the families of their players in the wake of the fifth high-profile kidnapping in six months…

Sao Paulo was scandalised last week following the abduction of the mother of yet another famous footballer. Alice Custódio Nazaré, 62, whose son is Corinthians defender Mario (known as Marinho), was snatched from her home on Tuesday night.

Nazaré lived in the impoverished Aparecida housing project in Santos. The kidnappers – who have yet to make contact with the family – were all dressed as florists.

Now clubs and the police are seeking to end the wave of football-related kidnappings in Brazil, with three of the five players’ mothers still being held hostage by various gangs.

Sports journalist Angelo Herrera told the Sunday Herald that, as clubs and players are getting so much publicity, criminal groups picked up on the fact that there is easy money to be made in these types of kidnappings.

“It’s much easier to kidnap a mother than an actual player, who has his own security guards,” he said.

“The biggest rise has been in Sao Paulo, but it’s happening in Rio de Janeiro too,” he added.

Kidnaps are nothing new to Sao Paulo. Last year 83 cases were registered in the city, where blacked-out car windows and tracking devices are increasingly common among the rich.

But 2005 has already seen a 27 per cent rise in kidnappings compared with the beginning of last year. Gangs that in the past preyed on wealthy businessmen are now targeting footballers, keen to cash in on their mammoth pay-cheques.

In January, Marinho, 29, signed a well-publicised two-year contract with Sao Paulo football club, Corinthians.

The deal was reportedly worth R$50,000 (£10,000) a month, a vast amount in a country where 22 per cent of the population live below the poverty line. As a result, footballers – who tend to live in the poor communities where they were raised and whose salaries are well known – are particularly at risk from crime.

The recent spate of “sequestros” has Brazil’s footballers shaken. The Sunday Herald contacted several Brazilian players about the threat of kidnapping, none of whom was prepared to talk openly.

Sources close to Marinho – who has asked police to end their investigation into his mother’s disappearance – were equally cagey.

“We have absolutely nothing to say about this,” said Eduardo Ferreira, a representative of Gaviões da Fiel (Hawks of the Faithful), the Corinthians supporters’ group. “Marinho has said he doesn’t want to talk to the press and that’s it.”

Luciano Signorini, a spokes-person for Corinthians, confirmed the radio and television reports. “All I can do is corroborate that Marinho’s mother was kidnapped by an unknown number of armed men,” he said.

Herrera believes it is common for players to try and negotiate the release of family members themselves.

“They get scared something serious might happen if the police become involved, so they try and resolve it themselves, quickly, usually by paying a ransom. It seems like that is what’s happening now with Marinho,” he said.

The latest kidnapping comes less than two months after gunmen seized the mother of Santos’s Robinho, a player tipped as “the new Pelé”.

Robinho was on the verge of a multi-million pound move to Real Madrid when his mother, Marina da Silva de Souza, was snatched from a barbecue on the Sao Paulo coast.

She was released 40 days later after a ransom, thought to be around £50,000, was paid.

The mothers of three other Brazilian players – Rogério, Grafite and Luís Fabiano – have also been kidnapped this year. Only Luís Fabiano’s mother has yet to be released.

Police have not released any information about whether the players have been in contact with the kidnappers.

The UN added its voice to concern about rising crime levels last week, announcing that Brazil, along with Venezuela, has the highest gun death rates in the world.

Every year between 35,000 and 40,000 people are killed by gun-related crime in Brazil, making gun murder the country’s leading cause of death.

Legislators are considering holding a referendum on whether the sale of guns should be prohibited – there are estimated to be over 20 million unregistered and illegal firearms on the streets.

The Nazaré kidnapping also comes at a controversial time for Corinthians. The club, founded in 1910, is Brazil’s oldest, with around 25 million supporters, but is embroiled in a money-laundering investigation that has not left the headlines in six months.

But for now all eyes are on Marinho and the fate of his 62-year-old mother.

Last month, Sao Paulo state governor Geraldo Alckmin pledged to build special prisons for kidnappers, in response to the 28 abductions already reported this year. But this may be too little, too late.