Phone trick to freedom
A Melbourne couple being held hostage in Russia were freed after the FBI tricked the kidnappers into leaving their phone number on an answering machine.
The number was passed to Russian police, who swooped on the hideout.
Mrs Yvonne Weinstock, of Elwood, was freed from a house about 50km east of Moscow.
Husband Daniel was found later in a hotel north of Moscow, where he was supposed to be helping negotiate his own release.
Mr Weinstock, of Video Technology Ltd, was involved in a business deal in which he was to export computers to the then-Soviet Union and import fertiliser in return.
Police believe the couple were snatched and a ransom sought to try to cover debts allegedly accumulated over the deal.
The amazing kidnap drama began for Mr and Mrs Weinstock when they were abducted from Moscow International Airport on January 8.
Their kidnappers immediately demanded a ransom of $2.16 million.
Mr Weinstock called his brother-in-law, Dr Israel Rayman, in New Jersey to deliver the ransom demand.
He contacted a former Russian district attorney, Mr Dimitry Afanasiev, who passed information between the FBI and Russian police.
FBI agents in New Jersey listened in on talks between the kidnappers and Dr Rayman, instructing him to stall for time.
Dr Rayman told the kidnappers they had to open an account in Moscow to which money could be wired.
They were then tricked into disclosing their telephone number.
It was traced and a house raided, but by then the kidnappers had fled.
When the kidnappers called Dr Rayman from a new address, the FBI told the doctor to pretend he was out.
The callers then left their new number on his answering machine.
This number was also traced but again they had fled.
By this time, Russian police had worked out that a Siberian deal might be behind the affair and pinpointed their likely hideout.
And when they raided it, five men were arrested and Mr Weinstock's wife freed.
But her husband had been taken to a Moscow hotel only minutes earlier to call Philadelphia about the ransom.
The Russians traced the hotel, apparently through a KGB-installed tapping device. Police swooped and Mr Weinstock was freed.
Five men with him were arrested and charged with the others with extortion.
Neighbors of the Elwood couple said they believed one of their children was being cared for by a housekeeper.
"There's not much life in the house but I think one of their children is being looked after by a nanny," said one neighbor.
Mr Phillip Port said Mr and Mrs Weinstock were very private people who kept to themselves.
"I sometimes see them, but it's a bit of a mystery," he said.
"One minute you see a light on and then you don't see anything of them for a couple of days."