Italian businessman sold to extremists when alleged fake kidnap plot backfired is charged with fraud

Luxury villa hideout turned into Syria hostage nightmare for man accused of ransom scam

Alessandro Sandrini (R), a 32-year-old Italian national who vanished in October 2016 after travelling to Turkey for a holiday, is seen in a car following a press conference by the the so-called "Salvation Government", the civil wing of the Idlib-based Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) jihadist group, where they announced his repatriation at Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, on May 22, 2019. - The Italian hostage has been released in Syria after more than two years in captivity and is on his way home, a Syrian rebel official and Italy's premier said today. (Photo by Muhammad HAJ KADOUR / AFP)
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An Italian businessman was charged with fraud after his alleged fake kidnap plot backfired when Islamist militants held him hostage for three years.

Alessandro Sandrini, 32, expected to be living in a luxury villa until he was double-crossed by his kidnappers and sold to extremists in Syria, investigators said.

Mr Sandrini was accused of planning his own abduction with a criminal gang in a plan to share the ransom money.

His girlfriend said that she overheard the gang promising to put him up in a villa stocked with "drugs, alcohol and women", police told The Times.

Prosecutors said Mr Sandrini promised her a share of the €100,000 ($117,410) ransom he hoped to receive and the gang paid his girlfriend €50 a week to keep the plot secret.

“He became a victim of his own game,” a source in the Italian justice system told a newspaper. "It was a real kidnapping from start to finish."

The genuine kidnappers released a video in 2018 of Mr Sandrini kneeling before masked, armed men begging for help. He claimed to have been captured outside a hotel in which he was staying.

Three men – two Albanians and an Italian – were arrested and charged with arranging the kidnapping.

Italian police said the men convinced Mr Sandrini and businessman Sergio Zanotti to travel to Turkey after meeting them in cafes in their home town of Brescia in Lombardy.

Mr Zanotti, 60, made the journey after being promised a business deal involving Iraqi currency.

Prosecutors said the men were flown to Turkey – five months apart – in 2016 by the gang.

In Turkey, both businessmen were captured and taken to Syria, where they were held captive by extremist group Hayat Tahrir Al Sham.

Police said the three men arrested had associates in Turkey, who carried out the kidnapping and handed the two Italians over to the extremists.

Mr Zanotti left Italy in April 2016 and remained a prisoner until April 2019.

Mr Sandrini, who arrived in Turkey in October 2016 and was not freed until May 2019, was charged with fraud.

Police said a third businessman was approached about making the trip to Turkey, but pulled out at the last minute, refusing to board his plane.