Sat, Apr 04, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Steaua Bucharest owner under arrest on kidnap charges

AP , BUCHAREST

The owner of leading Romanian soccer club Steaua Bucharest was arrested early yesterday on charges of kidnapping three men who allegedly stole his car earlier this year.

Gigi Becali, 50, was arrested following a five-hour court session through the night, after prosecutors argued he was “a public danger,” Bucharest court officials said.

Four others, who are all Becali’s bodyguards, were also arrested in the case. Becali can be detained for 29 days while the case is investigated.

Hundreds of fans and family members gathered outside the Bucharest courtroom through the night. Some held a sign saying “Free Gigi,” shouting abuse at reporters.

Bucharest police said Becali and six employees attacked the three men in January, surrounding their vehicle and threatening them with guns before bundling them into the trunk of a car. The three men were then allegedly driven to a village outside Bucharest and left there, police said.

Becali has said the charges are a setup, claiming that the men had stolen his US$162,000 Mercedes and were trying to extort money for its return. He said they had also asked for hush money in exchange for not telling police about the alleged kidnapping.

Two years ago, Becali was Romania’s richest businessman with an estimated wealth of US$3.35 billion, much of it in real estate. However, he was hit hard by the economic crisis and said recently he only had 2.68 million euros (US$3.6 million) in the bank, with 80 million euros owed to him.

Becali is known in Romania for his verbal outbursts and frequent appearances on television shows. In December he fired Turkish coach Yuksel Yesilova, saying that as a Muslim he brought bad luck to Steaua, a Christian team.

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