The mother-in-law of one of the most powerful figures in the international automobile racing scene has reportedly been kidnapped in Brazil, adding to concerns about athletes' safety during the upcoming Olympic Games.
According to a report by Brazil's Veja magazine, on the evening of July 22 unidentified suspects in São Paulo kidnapped Aparecida Schunck, the mother-in-law of Bernie Ecclestone, the British billionaire who serves as chief executive of a group of companies overseeing the popular Formula 1 auto racing series. Schunck is the mother of Ecclestone's Brazilian wife, Fabiana Flosi.
Brazilian news outlet O Globo reported on July 25 that the suspects have contacted Schunck's family, but law enforcement has not publicly confirmed the reports of her kidnapping.
Veja described Schunck's kidnapping as "the biggest kidnapping in Brazil," reporting that the suspects had requested a ransom of 120 million reais (about $36.6 million) from Ecclestone. According to the magazine, the kidnappers asked for the payment to be made in the form of four bags filled with British currency.
Forbes magazine estimates that Ecclestone and his family are worth about $3.1 billion. Some observers have speculated that Ecclestone might soon retire from the racing scene, but in a recent interview that appeared on the Formula 1 website the 85-year-old magnate dismissed the notion he ever plans to step down, saying he would rather hold his current position until his death.
The governing body of Forumla 1 racing, the International Automobile Federation (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile - FIA), did not immediately respond to a request by InSight Crime for comment on reports of Schunck's kidnapping. Attempts to reach Ecclestone or his representatives through his business entities were unsuccessful.
InSight Crime Analysis
Reports of Schunck's kidnapping add to ongoing anxieties about the safety of the more than 10,000 athletes expected to participate in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next month. It is possible that criminal organizations will seek to use the occasion of the Olympics to target wealthy athletes and their family members for large ransom amounts. Such activities have a precedent in Brazil: in 2004 and 2005 a string of kidnappings targeted the mothers of several of the country's top soccer stars.
The Brazilian government does not maintain up-to-date, nationwide statistics on kidnappings. Data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime shows that Brazil's kidnapping rate remained relatively steady between 2006 and 2013, at about 0.2 incidents per 100,000 citizens, but the agency cautions against using its figures to make regional comparisons due to differing reporting requirements and definitions of kidnapping among countries.
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Although the government plans to spend more than $215 million on security for the Rio Olympics, some experts have previously raised concerns about criminal activities affecting visiting sports figures. Brazilian Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes has even said that "crime is a greater concern than terrorism" for officials charged with ensuring security during the Games.
Minor thefts and muggings have already affected a number of athletes, including members of Spain's sailing team and Austrailian Paralympic competitors. Additionally, both locals and foreigners in major Brazilian cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have frequently been the targets of "quicknappings," in which criminals kidnap victims for a short amount of time, usually demanding a relatively small ransom. A New Zealand martial arts fighter living in Rio de Jainero recently described being targeted in a similar-sounding scheme.