SA cops, Interpol probe murder

2004-12-31 12:31

Interpol and the police forces of South Africa, America and Greece have joined forces to investigate the brutal murder of a wealthy Greek national whose badly mutilated body was found in Durban shortly before Christmas.

George Makronalli, 29, was a victim of a notorious 419 fraud scheme.

He was apparently lured to the country under the pretence that he could earn hundreds of thousands of rands. He was then kidnapped and summarily killed when his family refused to pay the ransom.

A spokesperson for the Durban police confirmed on Thursday that Makronalli was a victim of a 419 syndicate.

Caught in a trap

The syndicate issued a statement on the internet in which they claimed that they had stolen about R150m from the South African government by submitting false claims for "contracts" and that they needed help from overseas to get the money out of the country.

Whoever was willing to help them, would receive a large part of the "profit". Makronalli was caught with this ruse. He reacted to the "invitation" and was convinced to come to South Africa in November.

He returned to Greece, but re-entered South Africa through Johannesburg International Airport at the request of syndicate members on December 18. He then disappeared.

When his brother, Sotirus Makronelli, from Los Angeles, could not establish contact with him for two days, he contacted Interpol and the American police. The police spokesperson said Sotirus allegedly also invested money in the 419 scheme.

Shortly after, Sotirus received an e-mail from the syndicate in which they informed him that they had kidnapped his brother and demanded that $160 000 (about R1m) be deposited in an American bank account within 24 hours. They threatened to kill George if their demands were not met.

The ransom was not paid. A day later, police found George's body in Durban. Both his legs and arms were broken and he had been set alight - probably while he was still alive.

"This was a blatant execution after a failed demand. Mr Makronalli's suitcases full of clothes and travel documents were found with his body. Robbery was not the motive," the police spokesperson said.

Nobody has been arrested, but the police's unit against serious violent crime in Durban and the 419 task team from Johannesburg are investigating the murder with the assistance of Interpol and the American and Greek police services.