Three wealthy British businessmen have been identified as being targeted for ransom money in the alleged kidnapping of Chloe Ayling.
The 20-year-old model claims she was snatched after flying to Italy for a bogus photoshoot last month and was advertised as a sex slave by a man who threatened to auction her online unless the sum of £270,000 was paid.
The trio have been named as celebrity agent Dave Read, 50, former Loaded magazine publisher Paul Baxendale-Walker, 53 and investment banker Rory McCarthy, 57, The Sun reported.
Read, who runs Neon Management, told HuffPost UK: “I have met Chloe in the past on modelling shoots, and through one of my clients, who is a friend of hers.
“Three weeks ago, I was contacted by the Metropolitan Police, who told me that she had been kidnapped and asked to meet me.”
“When I did, they explained that an email had been sent from her kidnapper to her model agency, in which I was named as someone who might help with money. I told the police everything I knew - which was not much.
“At that stage I understood that Chloe was still in danger, so I kept the meeting with the police secret, as the officers had asked me to. I was never contacted by Chloe or her kidnapper about money, and the next I heard about it was the news that she had been found.”
None of the three men is believed to have paid any money towards Ayling’s release, which occurred when Lukasz Pawel Herba, who has been arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and extortion, took her to the British Consultate in Milan after learning she was mother to a 21-month-old son.
Initial reports stated British-born Herba, 30, claimed to be a member of Black Death, a shadowy organisation selling drugs, guns and murder on the “dark web.”
Ayling told investigators Herba had bragged about earning over $15m in five years from selling women on the internet.
According to court documents, he is said to have boasted: “At least three girls a week are sold, and when the buyer is tired of the girl he purchased in the auction, he can give to another person, and that when she is no longer of interest, she is ‘fed to the tigers’.
Italian prosecutor Paolo Storati said Herba was dangerous and also appeared to have “traces of mythomania” - a tendency to exaggerate or tell lies.
Herba has downplayed his involvement in the kidnapping, telling investigators it was orchestrated by a group of Romanians who paid him £500,000 to rent properties around Europe. He said he became involved with the Romanians because he has leukemia and needs money to pay for medical treatment.
Italian police say he didn’t provide the names of doctors or other evidence he is ill.
He also told police he wasn’t present when Ayling was kidnapped, but came to her aid when he saw her photos posted in an online auction.
The two had met three months before in Paris, when Ayling went to a modelling job that was cancelled. Lukasz told investigators he called the job off when he realised the Romanians intended to kidnap her. Herba’s lawyer, Cosmo de Rose, declined to comment.
“Trials happen in the courtroom,” he said.
Ayling’s lawyer Francesco Pesce defended his client after it emerged she had been spotted shoe shopping with Herba and had even admitted to sharing a bed with him during her six day ordeal – though she insisted the pair had no sexual contact. Admitting the story was “incredible”, Pesce maintains Herba had threatened to kill her if she did not go along with his demands.
Residents in Viu, the town where Ayling claims she was kept prisoner for six days, have expressed scepticism at her claims.
Cesare Prati, who rented a house from Herba told iNews: “The whole affair seems strange – I heard from friends she was going around the village. What kind of kidnap is that? In Viu there’s police and carabinieri, it’s full of people. Why didn’t she ask for help, I don’t understand.”
Meanwhile the father of Ayling’s son has complained the model has not been to see their baby since her ordeal, which ended on 17 July.
Conor Keyes, who is the child’s main carer told the Daily Star: “She can come and see him whenever she wants to but the thing is I am still waiting for her to do that.”
Carla Bellucci, a model agent who used to represent Ayling, told the Evening Standard: “As a friend I want to believe her. I was supposed to see her yesterday, but she’s signed with a new celebrity agency and they’ve told her not to talk to me. I’ve heard they’re trying to get a £20,000 photoshoot deal. Chloe’s always been looking for fame. I just hope she hasn’t been misled by someone over this as she’s so trusting.”
Britain’s National Crime Agency said British police are working with Italian authorities and searched a house in Oldbury linked to Herba on 18 July. Computer equipment has been seized and is being forensically examined. It has not yet been determined if Herba had accomplices.