Kidnapped farmer warns of dangers of online love

CANBERRA (Reuters) - An Australian farmer who was kidnapped and beaten in Mali after walking into an Internet bride scam has pleaded with people to be careful looking for online love.

South Australian farmer Des Gregor, 56, returned to Australia on Sunday night after being held hostage by machete-armed bandits in Africa for 12 days.

“I was tied, bound by the legs, and that was only probably for a couple of days because they knew that I was going to cooperate. There was always one bloke sleeping at the door, there was no way out,” Gregor told Australian media.

Love-struck Gregor arrived in Mali last month to meet his supposed fiancee, Natacha, whom he had “met” on the Internet, and collect a dowry of gold bars worth $100,000.

Instead, the wheat and sheep farmer was picked up at the airport in a car and driven to a single bedroom apartment in the capital, Bamako, which was full of armed men.

Gregor was told his limbs would be hacked off unless his family in Australia paid a $100,000 ransom.

The scam was only stopped and Gregor freed when Australian and Mali police in turn duped the kidnappers into letting Gregor enter the Canadian embassy in Bamako to collect the ransom.

Mali is one of the world’s poorest countries, with a prolonged drought hitting the mainly farming and fishing-based economy. Most foreign tourists travel to the country to see the World Heritage-listed trading outpost of Timbuktu.

Gregor said he had no inkling before his arrival that he was a victim of a confidence trick and had now learnt his lesson.

“I reckon another couple of days and I wouldn’t have returned,” he said, recounting “a good belting” he received with a machete during his ordeal.

Gregor warned others looking for love over the Internet to be careful.

“Make sure you check everything out 100 percent,” he said.

Brother Phil said Des had been “absolutely blinded” by love and did not see the scam coming.

“You see this in a movie, you read about it in a book. It happens to someone else, not you. But it does,” he said.

“I really hope that the message gets out to people that they look after their family and if anyone talks about Internet relationships, that they can be open and share the mail with them to get an objective opinion.”