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Head of Guardia Civil Crime Against Citizens unit

Kidnappings are the most complex investigations because a person's life is in danger and the investigators are working against the clock
20.06.11 - 12:02 -
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Jesús Gálvez: "Many kidnappings end with the victim being arrested"
Jesús Gálvez, in Malaga. Antonio Salas
Jesús Gálvez is the chief of the Crime Against Citizens group of the Central Operative Unit, an elite squad of the Guardia Civil. In his daily work he deals with assassinations, kidnaps and extortion. He recently attended the Ibero-American Anti-Kidnapping Conference in Malaga.
How do you tackle these cases?
In criminal investigations you're investigating the past, fitting all the pieces into the puzzle until you discover what happened. In drug cases you're dealing with the future, what will happen, when will the haul be delivered.
Which cases are the most difficult?
Kidnappings are the most complex. Somebody's life is at risk and you are working against the clock to try to find them. Afterwards we can ascertain the reason and who was responsible, but the fundamental thing is to save this person and that they remain unharmed. The family plays a key role in this, because they will receive the ransom demands.
What form do these negotations take?
We never deal directly with the kidnapper. We mediate and instruct the relatives so they know what to say and so they learn to control the situation even in a state of nerves. Negotiating skills are essential in mediation.
Are families reluctant to report kidnappings for fear of reprisals?
In organised crime, always. Nobody wants to tell the Guardia Civil that somebody has been snatched because they kept 1,500 kilos of hashish which belonged to another organisation but sometimes a relative is terrified and does so. When that happens, the victim is also arrested and they all end up in prison, some for drug trafficking and others for kidnapping as well. Often, the person who was kidnapped says: "Officer, why am I wearing handcuffs? I'm the victim". And you reply: "Yes; but you did commit such and such a crime". And then they say: "I told my wife never to phone the Guardia Civil". But her main concern is her husband's life.
Do victims usually know the person responsible?
In a classic kidnapping case, not normally, although there is always some previous contact and that is what we try to discover. They don't snatch the first person to walk past in the street. The person responsible has to have left some sort of clue; he will have gone to the victim's place of work, or home, or their children' s school - they will have studied his or her routine.
Are there many cases of this type?
Very few in Spain, maybe five a year, maximum. Illegal detentions are another matter, and the police deal with those differently.
What is the difference?
The financial motive. In a kidnapping a ransom is demanded, while behind an illegal detention there could be threats, blackmail or somebody defending their rights: 'you'll stay here until I'm paid'.
Which cases are the most frequent on the Costa del Sol?
In Spain in general, the most common are kidnappings as a balance of accounts.
Some investigations begin in Spain and end abroad. How does police cooperation operate?
It is fundamental for those of us who work in this field to meet face to face. The international channel is Interpol, but that involves bureaucratic processes and tends to be slower. Information a week later is no good to me in a kidnap case. Our aim is to make our international network even wider and more extensive.
How long does it normally take to solve these crimes?
The average, worldwide, is between six and seven days. In Spain it is between four and five.
And in how many cases is the victim freed?
All of them. We don't have a single case in which a kidnapping has ended in murder. We do have some in which the murder is carried out and then they try to fake a kidnapping and get money out of the family. That's why we insist on having proof that the victim is alive when we are mediating.
What is the most complicated case you have dealt with?
Ones where the victim is already dead. You hope to find them alive but discover that they had already been killed. You know you couldn't have done anything, but it is really disappointing.
But you must feel ecstatic when you free a kidnap victim.
There is a tremendous satisfaction in saving someone and taking them back to their family.

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