Cops in Ecuador reveal bomb vest ‘she was made to wear by crooks’ was FAKE as they face questions over whether she will be arrested



By Rachael Bunyan and Gerard Couzens

08:44 21 Dec 2023, updated 09:07 21 Dec 2023

  • Colin Armstrong, 78, was snatched from his villa by 15 armed men on Saturday 



The bomb vest that the girlfriend of a kidnapped British millionaire was allegedly forced to wear by crooks was fake, cops in Ecuador have revealed.

Colin Armstrong, 78, was snatched from his villa alongside his partner Katherine Paola Santos by 15 armed men on Saturday morning and was seen being bundled into the back of a car. 

Later that day, footage showed Miss Santos having what appeared to be a vest filled with explosives removed by bomb disposal police at a property on a private gated escape after her kidnappers allegedly forced her to wear it. She reportedly said the vest would explode if a ransom wasn’t paid.

But now, Ecuadorian police have said that specialist officers have ‘ruled out the possibility they were real explosives’ as they face questions over whether Mr Armstrong’s girlfriend will be arrested. 

Police have been quizzing Miss Santos over her kidnapping and how she came to be released on Saturday – four days before Mr Armstrong was found by police on a road near Manabi not far from Los Rios where he was snatched. 

Asked whether the fitness fanatic, who attends pole dancing classes to keep fit, was also under arrest, General Freddy Sarzosa Guerra, the police’s director of investigations, said: ‘The kidnap was orientated towards two victims, the British man who was freed and his partner who was liberated the same day of the kidnap.

‘She was interviewed before being taken to a place of safety.’

Colin Armstrong, 78, and partner Katherine Paola Santos are pictured together

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He added: ‘This is being investigated as a kidnap for money and the motive was an economic one.

‘The man who was kidnapped is stable and after medical checks, is also now in a place of safety.

‘The kidnappers wanted to earn a high amount of money out of this but police tactics led to individuals involved being identified and arrested.’

A report has claimed that Mr Armstrong was targeted by a cartel after refusing to pay protection money. 

It comes as Ecuadorian police released a video of the moment Mr Armstrong was rescued by cops. 

Several armed officers were seen racing down a dirt path and swarming a small brick building from multiple angles, though the actual raid was not shown.

Police showed off the stash they had confiscated from the gang, which included five grenades, six firearms, 1,500 cartridges, 30 detonating fuses, two vehicles and ‘several kilos of substances subject to control’.

Police showed off the stash they had confiscated from the gang, which included five grenades, six firearms, 1,500 cartridges, 30 detonating fuses, two vehicles and ‘several kilos of substances subject to control’
Colin Armstrong, 78, and partner Katherine Paola Santos are pictured together in Jamaica

Cesar Zapata, Commander General of the country’s police force, said during a press conference last night that nine people – one foreign national and eight Ecuadorians –  were arrested following the raid. 

No details of their ages were given and a line up released at the press conference showed nine pixelated faces. 

Zapata said: ‘On December 16 at approximately 2.30am we were informed about this deplorable incident in the province of Los Ríos and all the relevant police units including specialist units were mobilised.

‘At 5pm the same day a woman who had been abandoned with what appeared to be explosive artefacts attached to her body was identified.

‘Specialist officers ruled out the possibility they were real explosives.

‘At 12pm a vehicle was found in Salitre with which this crime was committed and yesterday around 11pm the kidnapped man was freed in Rocafuerte in Manabi.’

On Wednesday, Cesar Augusto Zapata Correa, Ecuador’s police chief, tweeted that Mr Armstrong had been found on a road near Manabi not far from Los Rios where he was snatched.

Police released a picture which showed him wearing a baseball cap, slightly out of focus, as per local law, flanked by two police officers. He appeared fit and well. 

Mr Correa wrote: ‘Our units released citizen Colin A., kidnapped a few days ago in Los Rios. At the moment he is safe and healthy.’

Police said they had released the businessman after raiding a farmhouse at 11pm local time on Tuesday night 5am GMT and he was taken away.
Officers disclosed more details saying that of the nine people arrested eight were locals and one was a foreigner
Gang members arrested by Ecuadorian police
Armed police conduct a raid on the gang members
The police officers seized various handguns and rifles along with bags of drugs
Police showed off the stash they had confiscated from the gang, which included five grenades, six firearms, 1,500 cartridges, 30 detonating fuses, two vehicles and ‘several kilos of substances subject to control’

Police chief Cesar Zapata said the motive for the crime was ‘economic’ but he would not indicate how much if any of a ransom was paid.

Police said they had released the businessman after raiding a farmhouse at 11pm local time on Tuesday night 5am GMT and he was taken away.

A search of the house revealed a huge arsenal of handguns and automatic rifles as well as stun grenades and cash and drugs.

It has since been claimed that a feared criminal gang allied to a violent Mexican cartel which forces new recruits to eat raw human hearts has been linked to Mr Armstrong’s kidnapping. 

The brutal Los Tiguerones, whose members identify themselves with tattoos of beret-wearing tigers had been identified as the chief suspects overnight before police announced Mr Armstrong had been freed. 

Officials were said to have been focusing on the group for allegedly snatching the 78-year-old president of agricultural distribution firm Agripac after he refused to pay them a monthly protection fee.

A well-placed source quoted in the Daily Telegraph said: ‘It’s the most likely reason for the kidnapping at this point.’

Police have confirmed nine suspects have so far been arrested, although they have not officially said whether they belong to Los Tiguerones.

The shadowy gang was a small support unit of Los Choneros, one of the South American country’s oldest organised crime groups, when they first began to be talked about in 2019.

Four years on, the organisation, which in its infancy had just 900 members, has expanded from its birthplace in the northern port city of Ecuador to become a leading player on the national scene as well as in neighbouring Peru.

 Los Choneros were allied to El Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel and Los Tiguerones is known to be linked to Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).

The cartel is a Mexican organised crime syndicate known for its aggressive use of extreme violence.

Last year it emerged the CJNG gang was forcing new members into cannibalism and had started sharing videos of gang members feasting on the hearts of their enemies.

Meanwhile, in a statement to MailOnline family friend Leo Morris said: ‘We can confirm that Mr Colin Armstrong has successfully been released and is currently with the police having interviews and then will be returning to his Family in Ecuador.

‘All of the UK family, staff and friends are delighted with the outcome and look forward to a happier Christmas.

‘We have no further news at present.’

Mr Armstrong’s son Nick Armstrong, who helps run the family estate in North Yorkshire, had flown to Ecuador to help in the hunt.

The father and son are directors of the 500-acre Tupgill Park Estate near Leyburn in north Yorkshire, which has been the family home for more than 45 years. 

Mr Armstrong’s daughter Diana Armstrong-Bruns, an estate agent based in California, had told MailOnline earlier this week following his kidnapping: ‘This is a critical time, we’ve been told not to say anything to anyone. We just want my father back.’ 

The wealthy businessman was snatched from his ranch called Rancho Rodeo Grande by up to 15 masked men reportedly disguised as police officers before being driven away in their black BMW which was later found abandoned by the roadside. 

His glamourous girlfriend was also abducted alongside Mr Armstrong on Saturday. But 24 hours later, she was reportedly seen at the home of his son Nick, in a taxi wearing a bomb vest. 

Police were alerted and video footage has since emerged apparently showing Ms Santos having the explosives vest removed by a bomb disposal expert at a property on the private gated estate in Samborondon near Guayaquil. 

Ms Santos was yesterday being quizzed by detectives about her kidnapping, apparent release and whether she was forced to wear the bomb vest by Mr Armstrong’s kidnappers so as to demand a ransom from his family.  

The couple appear together on a safari holiday in this picture before their reported abduction
Mr Armstrong’s daughter Diana Armstrong-Bruns (pictured), an estate agent based in California, had told MailOnline earlier this week following his kidnapping: ‘This is a critical time, we’ve been told not to say anything to anyone. We just want my father back’
His son Nick Armstrong (right), who helps run the family estate in North Yorkshire, had flown to Ecuador to help in the hunt

Meanwhile, chilling footage posted online showed how the abductors left a blood-stained trail behind after ransacking Mr Armstrong’s remote ranch in the province of Los Rios.

Mr Armstrong headed the British Consulate in the Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil and has been honoured by the late Queen for his services to his country.

Video reportedly taken inside the property known as Rancho Rodeo Grande shows the aftermath of the attack. 

A woman filming inside the ranch took close-up shots of broken plates on the floor and a man holding his head.

She then walked into one of the bedrooms where there was blood on the bedsheets and the floor.

As she focused in on the stained sheets, she is reported to have said: ‘This is where they hit him. My God what is this!’

The honorary consul’s car, a black BMW the kidnap victims are said to have been driven away in, was reportedly found abandoned on the road between the town of Baba and the nearby town of Salitre.

Local police initially managed to activate satellite tracking of the BMW, which showed it being driven south towards the city of Ecuador, but they lost track of it.

Local reports say British intelligence was involved in the hunt for Colin.

The Foreign Office previously said: ‘We are in contact with the Ecuadorean authorities following the disappearance of a British man and are supporting his family.’

Mr Armstrong owns the 500-acre Tupgill Park Estate in North Yorkshire, which was his childhood home.

The estate now welcomes more than 150,000 visitors a year to an attraction known as the Forgotten Corner which was originally built as a private folly.

Mr Armstrong – who is thought to have previously been married to an Ecuadorian woman – has had a long association with the South America country where he owns Agripac, a large agricultural supply company which he founded in 1972. 

Pictures on TikTok show wealthy businessman Colin Armstrong, 78, and partner Katherine Paola Santos enjoying a jet-set lifestyle prior to their kidnapping on Saturday
Mr Armstrong headed the British Consulate in the Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil and has been honoured by the late Queen for his services to his country

He works there alongside son Nick, who took over the honorary consul role in the city of Guayaquil from his father in 2016 and is also a director of the company which runs Ripon Racecourse in North Yorkshire. 

His adopted son Leo Morris helps run a restaurant at the family’s Yorkshire estate. 

In recent years Ecuador – situated between world-leading cocaine producers Colombia and Peru – has become a centre for foreign and domestic drug cartels blamed for a series of massacres, kidnappings and extortions.

Gangs now control prisons, and violence in the streets has surged. Since 2018, the national murder rate has more than quadrupled, soaring from six to 26 per 100,000 inhabitants.

As a large port city, Guayaquil has become a centre for the cartels exporting drugs to the United States and Europe.

President Daniel Noboa, a Guayaquil native who took office in late November, has promised to crack down on drug traffickers.

His election followed a campaign season marred by violence in which eight politicians, including a mayor, were killed.



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