The behavior was not the kind ordinarily associated with international terrorism. In a Brazilian courtroom last week, two Canadians denied tak-
ing part in the kidnapping last month of a wealthy supermarket executive and told the
judge that, until police surrounded the house they were living in, they did not know the hostage was hidden beneath the kitchen floor. Then, the Argentine who allegedly masterminded the plot not only backed up their story but pleaded guilty himself. Robert David Spencer, 26, of Moncton, N.B., his girlfriend, Christine Gwen Lamont,
30, of Langley, B.C., and eight South Americans were arraigned on charges arising from the botched kidnapping of Abilio Diniz, set free last month after agreeing to pay the lawyers who would defend his captors. Diniz, 52, the executive vice-president of the 522-store Päo de Açucar chain, emerged from six days of captivity on Dec. 17 when police surrounded the house in the southern Brazilian city of Säo Paulo where he was being held.
Last week, the 10 defendants, each charged with kidnapping for extortion, setting up a gang with criminal intent and resisting arrest, were driven in two armored cars from Säo Paulo state penitentiary to the courthouse where Lamont pleaded not guilty.
Wearing a prison-issue green skirt and tan knitted sweater, Lamont told Judge Roberto Caldeira Barioni that she was a tourist and had held a gun for the first time in her life during the police seige because she feared they would storm the house and “I wanted to protect my life.”
The clean-shaven Spencer, dressed in a khaki prison uniform, pleaded guilty only to resisting arrest. As for Diniz’s imprisonment in a windowless cell dug into the earth beneath the kitchen, Spencer said: “I never knew he was there.” But Spencer did say
that he was in Brazil to take part in “a
new political movement that would work on the side of all the people in Latin America.”
Then, while more than 50 policemen with machine-guns, bulletproof vests and dogs patrolled the shabby terraced houses flanking the courthouse, Argentine Humberto Eduardo Paz, 34, who police said masterminded the kidnapping, rose to plead guilty and support the
testimony of the Canadians. He said that the kidnapping was intended to raise money for a new political movement aimed at easing the social and economic plight of Latin America’s poor. Added Paz: “David wanted a function in the organization and helped by renting the
house. Christine did not know anything. She was David’s wife.”
Brazilian police earlier offered a different explanation of Spencer’s role in the affair. They said that the ransom was never paid because Spencer left a trail of clues to the house where Diniz was confined. The 14-page indictment against the suspects said that, a few days before
Diniz was kidnapped, Spencer went to a Säo Paulo garage with a Chevrolet van that needed transmission repairs. He left his name, address and phone number. Police said that the van, crudely disguised as an ambulance, was subsequently used to grab Diniz by ramming his white Mercedes-Benz car. The van was abandoned, and in the glove compartment police found the garage operator’s business card.
After heavily armed police surrounded the house on the afternoon of Dec. 16, the kidnappers demanded $52 million, an armored car to take them to the airport and an aircraft in which to make their escape. Police said that by the next day they had reduced their demands to $266,800 and a visit from Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Ams, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Säo Paulo and a prominent champion of human rights. The cardinal arrived by helicopter,
talked with the kidnappers and, after police promised them fair treatment, they surrendered.
Meanwhile, it remained unclear how the Canadians arrived in Brazil. Lamont’s mother told reporters that her daughter left Canada with Spencer last April after telling her family she was going to work as a freelance translator in Nicaragua. But Brazilian lawyer Marco Antonio Nahum, representing both Lamont and Spencer, said that the woman spoke little Spanish or Portuguese, the language most widely spoken in Brazil. For their part, Säo Paulo police officials speculated that the Canadians were recruited into the Chilean Movement of the Revolutionary Left last year in Canada by a Chilean terrorist identified as Sergio Olivares Urtubia, one of the 10 people indicted in the kidnapping.
Lamont’s parents, Dr. Keith Lamont, a surgeon, and his wife, Marilynn, flew to Brazil shortly after their daughter was arrested, but have since returned home. They told reporters in Säo Paulo that, in December, Christine telephoned to say that she and Spencer were going to Argentina for a vacation. The Lamonts said they first heard of her plight when they received a call from Canadian officials in Säo Paulo.
Last week, Barioni began his interrogation of each of the accused while William Peck, Canada’s consul general in Säo Paulo, and representatives of the Argentine and Chilean embassies looked on. Under Brazilian judicial procedure, the judge is required to deliver his verdict no more than 81 days after the arrests. If convicted, the two Canadians could face more
than 20 years imprisonment. Meanwhile, if the confusion generated by published accounts of the kidnapping are any indication, Barioni has his work cut out for him in determining exactly what happened.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.