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Expert warns of LatAm kidnapping threat

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Discussion: pictured on the Alarys panel are, from left, Brad Kading, Abir president, Javier Mirabal of FundAlarys, Marcello D’Alessandro, Marcelo D’Alessandro, director of Associação Brasileira de Gerência de Riscos, and Carlos Sabaini of Adara (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Bermuda’s bid to attract more business from Latin America could put visiting business chiefs at risk from kidnapping, an expert warned yesterday.

Elman Myers, managing director of Bermudian-based Hiscox’s special risks agency for the Americas, said that kidnap for ransom was a serious threat in Latin America.

And he added that Latin American professionals, as well as the very rich, were becoming targets of organised criminals.

Mr Myers explained that, as the threat of Communist-backed revolutionaries had receded after the Soviet Union collapsed, members of former revolutionary forces and the military had turned to kidnapping and drug-dealing.

Mr Myers, a former special agent with the US Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations in Latin America, said: “Whenever Bermuda sends people in pursuit of business around the world, they could be in harm’s way, so it’s something for Bermuda companies to consider as well.”

He added: “It’s a growing threat worldwide and it’s become more widespread.

“It was once focused on very wealthy people, but because it’s now organised crime, numbers are increasing around the world.

“It’s something the world will see more and more of as the world remains a dangerous place.”

Mr Myers was speaking after he delivered the keynote address at the Alarys conference for risk management professionals from the region.

He told delegates he had been in involved in about 300 kidnapping and extortion claims and that 15 per cent of kidnappings where expert advice was not sought ended in the victim’s death, while just one per cent ended in the same result where his team was involved.

Mr Myers said: “Most of the risk is to people living and working in Latin America permanently — however, you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time and, when your world intersects with the criminal world, bad things happen.

“The more time you spend there, the more risk there is. It’s also a question of profile — people have to try and keep a low profile when they travel. But the company has to have a plan in place to deal with it if something does happen.”

And he said that a lack of local knowledge could make visiting business people more of a target for criminal elements.”

But Mr Myers said insurance against kidnap and ransom attempts could provide business for Bermudian reinsurers — although on a small scale compared to major risk like hurricanes and earthquakes.

Mr Myers said: “There is a reinsurance market for it as insurers get into it, it’s possible some of that risk could come here, but it’s a small area compared to natural catastrophes.”

He added, however, that the Latin American region was a potential growth area for the kind of insurance and reinsurance business Bermuda specialises in.

Mr Myers said: “Latin America is an important market, it’s growing, it’s developing. There are great business opportunities.

“The amount of insurance penetration in Latin America is very, very low and the growth potential is enormous.”

He added: “Latin America has a bright future. It has a lot of challenges, a lot of institutional challenges, but it has natural resources and good people. This part of the world is a good place to look for opportunities.

“But, like everything else, you have to be prudent and you have to have a plan.”

Delegates at yesterday's opening day of the Alarays conference at the Hamilton Princess (Photograph by Akil Simmons)