PHUKET: Arrest warrants have been approved for five Russian men accused of abducting a Belarusian couple in this resort island province and forcing them to transfer 31 million baht worth of cryptocurrency before releasing them.
Police initially brought in four of the five Russians for questioning following a complaint by Albert Viviankou, 23, and his wife, whose name was not given. The couple alleged that a group of men abducted them in front of a restaurant near Lor Rong intersection in Muang district around 10pm on Monday.
The couple were taken in a black Hyundai van and forced to transfer US$901,200, or about 31 million baht, worth of cryptocurrency. After the transfers, the gang released the couple, who immediately filed the complaint.
The first two Russian men were found in a room in this southern province, while the other two were held at Phuket airport as they were about to leave the country. All were taken to Muang police station for questioning, where they denied the charges.
Subsequently, a fifth suspect, reported to be the mastermind, was apprehended at a massage shop on Patong beach and interrogated separately from the others. Despite the charges, all five Russians continued to deny involvement.
On Thursday, court approval was sought and granted for the arrest warrants of the four Russians initially taken in for questioning. The Phuket Provincial Court issued warrants for the arrest of the five men, who refused to sign their names in the police record of their arrest. They were detained at Muang station for legal action.
The five individuals are Zalim Nalchikov, 37, Oleg Bogdanov, 30, Azamat Nagofv, 36, Islam Abdokov, 29, and Aslan Abazov, 36.
Police have initially charged them with robbery, coercion, illegal detention and related offences.
Some of the five Russian suspects involved in the alleged abduction of the Belusarian couple are interrogated by police. (Photo supplied/Achadthaya Chuenniran)
Forensic officials on Friday attempted to collect evidence from the alleged abduction van, but no evidence was found. However, evidence was obtained from a rented Toyota Fortuner used by the gang. The forensic team found a plastic basin, a kitchen knife, a folding knife, two adhesive tapes, one roll of plastic rope, a stove lighter and a pair of scissors. All items were unused.
According to a source, the Belarusian couple told police that they were riding a motorcycle from a game shop in tambon Chalong in Muang district to their accommodation in tambon Talad Yai when the abduction took place. While the couple were about to enter a side street, three men on board a Hyundai van cut in front of their bike. Those men got out of the van and forced them into the van. Three men in a Hyundai van cut in front of their bike, forcing them into the van. The couple’s heads were covered with plastic bags, and the male victim was punched to compel them to transfer the cryptocurrency.
After the money was wired, the couple was released about a kilometre away from where they were abducted. The couple insisted they did not know the perpetrators, having entered Phuket since December last year, while the suspects arrived on the island just last month, the source said.