The Guardian

Rio de Janeiro, March 23:

The Brazilian police said yesterday that the country’s footballers were the target of a sophisticated extortion ring, after armed kidnappers snatched the mother of an overseas player: the second such abduction in a month.

Ines Fidelis Regis, 57, mother of the Sporting Lisbon defender Rogerio, was snatched on Monday by three armed men who broke into her house in Campinas, about 100km from Sao Paulo. Her daughter was bound and gagged.

The local police said yesterday that they were still waiting for the kidnappers to make contact. Two weeks earlier the 45-year-old mother of the Porto striker Luis Fabiano was snatched near her Campinas flat and remains in captivity. Fabiano, whose nickname is “Fabulous”, had recently bought her the flat. The police said they were working on the basis that the two women were being held by the same group. They said that footballers’ celebrity lifestyles were making their families a target for kidnappers.

In December a ransom payment secured the release of Marina de Silva Souza, the mother of Robinho, the 20-year-old Santos star who is expected to join Real Madrid in Spain in July.

Souza was snatched at gunpoint from a barbecue and spent 40 days in captivity before being dumped on the outskirts of Sao Paulo. The police have not confirmed the size of the ransom, but press reports put it at more than $76,000.

In another recent incident the 51-year-old mother of the Sao Paulo striker Grafite was held for a day before the police rescued her.

Kidnapping for ransom is rife in Brazil, and the families of rich businessmen are the most frequent victims of what the police refer to as an “industry”. Footballers are a more recent target.

But sociologists say the trend was predictable, given the visibility of players’ earnings and the fact that many of them are born in the poorer neighbourhoods where crime is concentrated and where their relatives are known to everyone.

Alba Zaluar, a social anthropologist, said: “Young players make easy targets. They are usually very close to their mothers... and they are ill-prepared for handling a lot of money in a discreet fashion.’’

Brazilian police have stuck to a policy of silence about their handling of the kidnappings, and little is known about the communication that takes place before there is a release.

“The only information we have is that there was a kidnapping and the captors have not made contact with the family yet,” a police spokesman said of the Rogerio case.

All the recent cases involving players’ mothers have occurred in the Sao Paulo region,

where the problem is most common. The state governor, Geraldo Alckmin, promised this week to build a prison dedicated to kidnappers.

A recent policy study showed that 24 kidnapping offences had been recorded in the city so far this year, at the rate of about one every three days. In a number of instances children have been snatched at their school gates.

The impression that there is a wave of kidnapping has created a boom market for tracking devices in Sao Paulo, including GPS cell phones and chips hidden in clothing and even under the skin.