German auto executive missing in South Africa

Uwe Gemballa, founder of Gemballa Automobiletechnik, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Singapore in this July 31, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Tim Chong

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African police are investigating the disappearance of a German auto executive who went missing three weeks ago while on a business trip to the country.

Uwe Gemballa, who is internationally recognised for his Porsche conversions, was apparently in South Africa to consider opening a dealership in Johannesburg.

“South African police are working with German police and are investigating a missing persons inquiry,” police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo said.

German media reported that Gemballa had asked his wife to wire one million euros to a bank, but Naidoo said there was “inconclusive” evidence to suggest kidnapping.

Naidoo said Gemballa arrived in South Africa on February 8 and was due to leave on February 10. “But there is no trace of him thereafter”.

Two German police officers were in South Africa to assist with the investigation.

Gemballa’s disappearance comes three months before South Africa hosts the FIFA Soccer World Cup, and the German media reports suggesting he could have been kidnapped were likely to put South Africa’s high crime rate in the spotlight again.

German soccer federation officials last month blamed slow World Cup ticket sales in Germany on security concerns and high travel costs.

Gemballa’s tuning company, based near Stuttgart, is well known for record-breaking super car conversions and has branches in Australia, Europe and the United States. His clientele includes Arab royalty, movie stars and the mega rich.

Reporting by Peroshni Govender; Editing by Charles Dick