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U.K.: Romanians, Kosovar Albanians Arrested As Beckham Kidnapping Is Foiled

British soccer star David Beckham is stepping up security at his English mansion after British tabloid journalists uncovered a plot to kidnap his pop star wife, Victoria -- better known as "Posh Spice" -- and their two young children. Police arrested nine suspects -- mostly Romanians -- in connection with the plot and have charged five of them with theft.

Prague, 4 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Britain's top celebrity couple, Manchester United and England national team soccer star David Beckham and his pop star wife Victoria, are stepping up their personal security after details emerged this weekend of a plot to kidnap her and possibly their two children.

The "News of the World," a British Sunday tabloid, uncovered a plot to kidnap Victoria -- known also as "Posh Spice," a member of the now-defunct band the Spice Girls -- and possibly her two young sons, 3-year-old Brooklyn and 2-month-old Romeo. "News of the World" reported the kidnappers were planning to demand five million pounds (nearly $8 million) in ransom.

But thanks to the journalists' undercover investigation, and their tip-off to British police, the would-be kidnappers -- a gang of Romanians and Kosovo Albanians -- never carried out their alleged plan.

"News of the World" Deputy Editor Andy Coulson says, "After several weeks of investigation we discovered a plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham and her two sons. Posing as members of the gang, we brought the kidnap attempt to a head working closely with Scotland Yard (London police)."

"News of the World" splashed the story under the headline "Posh Kidnap -- We Foil Crime of the Century."

The article that follows is no less dramatic. With the help of a fake criminal "resume," a "News of the World" reporter infiltrated a gang of Romanian and Kosovo Albanian art thieves about three weeks ago.

The gang soon set their sights higher than jewels and old books. Instead, they hatched a plan to ambush 28-year-old Victoria Beckham as she drove from her home and sedate her and anyone else in the car with a chloroform spray.

The reporter's concocted story and phony resume was apparently so plausible he was hired as a "getaway driver" for the kidnappers.

One of the gang allegedly told him: "If the kids are with her, it's even better. We ask David Beckham for 5 million pounds. It's 100 percent (guaranteed) he pays. But if something happens and he don't pay, Victoria is going to die."

At the weekend, the gang turned up at a London hotel believing they were about to sell a haul of art treasures -- including a jeweled crown -- stolen from a London auction house.

But the "buyers" were also from the "News of the World," and at a prearranged signal from the reporters, police swooped in on the gang.

Nine suspects were arrested over the weekend -- though one woman was later released -- and five were charged today with theft and conspiracy to rob. No kidnapping charges have yet been made, but police are continuing their inquiries.

"News of the World" Managing Editor Stuart Kuttner says, "These are seriously dangerous criminals. I mean, they were armed criminals. In fact, the plan was if they did not get the money, if they did not get the ransom -- if it wasn't paid for Victoria Beckham -- they said frankly, 'We will kill her.'"

This kind of audacious kidnapping plot is rather rare in Britain.

Donald Palmer has experience in kidnapping negotiations -- primarily in Latin America, where kidnapping for ransom is common. He is head of crisis management at Inkerman Group, a security consultancy that, among other things, advises wealthy individuals and companies on how to prevent kidnappings.

He says that statistics showing an overall rise in kidnappings in Britain are misleading.

"In this country, particularly, kidnap for ransom is more often than not a purely criminal-against-criminal activity. In other words, drug abusers and drug pushers, you know, taking a ransom demand on someone who can't afford to pay for his last fix. Also there is a considerable amount of ransom being held by ethnic groups against illegal immigrants that have come in. The actual incidence of kidnap of the type that has been highlighted by the Beckham issue are not that frequent."

Palmer says a bold plot to kidnap the famous wife of one of the world's most famous soccer stars raises questions. For instance, were they amateurs, or professionals with some experience behind them?

"It's difficult to get a handle [from the] information we have on these guys at the moment to know if they were experienced or not. But it would definitely seem from what we've read that their intention was positive (serious), that their reconnaissances were carried out fairly thoroughly."

Another question the case throws up is, how did a tabloid paper beat the police at their own game? As John O'Connor, a former commander of the London police flying squad -- a mobile police unit combating mainly armed robbery and organized crime -- says, "The worrying thing is that the information [about the kidnapping plot] didn't come to the police, it went to a national newspaper. It might be that the police need to start looking at their informant-handling procedures."

Victoria Beckham first shot to fame as "Posh" of the Spice Girls, a female pop band that had a string of hits in the late 1990s, including the song "Wannabe."

These days, aside from a faltering solo career, Victoria is famous for her marriage to 27-year-old Beckham, star of both the Manchester United side and captain of England's national soccer team. The couple's every move -- from their choice of clothes to their haircuts -- is given extensive coverage in the British media.

But this is not the first time their fame has attracted unwelcome attention. Three years ago, police foiled a plan to kidnap the couple's son.