Dad’s desperate search

By Noelene Barbeau Time of article published Jun 26, 2012

Share this article:

A Ukrainian father has been searching for nine months – with the help of South African police, Interpol and diplomats – for his son who went missing on a trip involving a diamond deal.

But the search for Mnatsakan Akobyan, 19, and his godfather, Vahagn Melyan, 47, who had planned a trip to Durban after the gem deal in Johannesburg, has got private investigators and police stumped.

They have exhausted all possible avenues, including the help of a psychic, to find the pair.

The two men were last seen when they were picked up from the Glenalmond Hotel in Sandton on September 17 by an “unknown woman wearing sunglasses and a hooded jersey”. They had all left in a silver Volvo.

The South African police identified the woman as a Ukrainian citizen. It is believed she acted with her boyfriend, also from Ukraine – the same man who had been in contact with Melyan about the diamonds.

A third suspect, also a Ukrainian woman, is believed to have met them at the hotel.

According to private investigator Sean Pierce, the couple were in South Africa on holiday visas, and had left South Africa for Moscow on September 24.

Pierce said the man had spoken to the missing teen’s father, Mikhail Akobyan, on Skype on September 19, saying Melyan and Mnatsakan had been robbed and that they had lost their cellphones, but would contact him the next day.

But there had been no word.

Akobyan reported the disappearances to the Ukrainian Consulate in Pretoria on September 20. He wrote to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and made a statement to Interpol in Ukraine.

Pierce said he had asked for Interpol, who are investigating the case, to interrogate three Ukrainian suspects.

Last Monday, Interpol in South Africa sent an e-mail to colleagues in Ukraine requesting that the three suspects be questioned.

“We believe the men are dead but Mnatsakan’s father still has hope they are alive,” Pierce said.

Akobyan said Melyan asked him to allow his son to accompany him to South Africa as Mnatsakan had been here in April last year, and had enjoyed his stay.

Through the father’s own investigations, he learnt that Melyan had been invited by a Ukrainian here to buy diamonds, and had e65 000 (about R676 650) with him.

While here, his son had regularly sent him SMSes, spoken on the phone, and communicated via Skype.

“The last phone conversation I had with my son was on September 16 at 10.16pm. After that I had no communication with him,” Akobyan said in a statement to the Ukrainian Consulate in Pretoria.

Pierce came on board when he applied to the Ukrainian Consulate in December for a visa to travel to Ukraine. “The consul-general had looked at my application and had seen that I was a private investigator,” he said. “He told me about the missing men and said he would give the boy’s father my details. The father contacted me in January and we have been working on the case ever since.

“Their last destination was Durban after they finished their deal in Johannesburg,” said Pierce, who, with his team at Coast to Coast Special Investigations, searched all the state mortuaries in South Africa.

Pierce said it took two weeks to compile a list of all of them, as no government department had a comprehensive list.

“We don’t know if they were coming to meet someone, because they’ve just disappeared and everyone is quiet.”

A psychic had volunteered her services, he said. Using photographs of the two men, she envisioned five people standing in a circle with the two foreign men in the middle.

“She said they were all arguing over the split of money and who was getting the commission when the men were killed. She was adamant they were killed in Soweto and that their bodies were dumped in Ennersdale, or Lenasia South in Gauteng,” Pierce said.

“We had maps for her. We drove up to Lenasia, where she said the bodies were dumped. Our team, using 4x4s and quad bikes along with six police vans and five search and rescue police dogs, searched the veld area.

“But we had no scent because we were looking for skeletons.”

They drove up to Gauteng three times and searched each of the areas twice, but had no joy. They also flew in the psychic. The team did find bones, but they turned out to be animal remains.

Pierce said they also received information that the men were working as slaves in a diamond mine near Pretoria, but this, too, was a dead end.

He is appealing to anyone who may have seen them, or have information that could help in the investigation, to come forward.

Warrant Officer GS Kgoba, of Interpol in Pretoria, confirmed that they were working on the kidnapping case.

Ukraine’s consul in SA, Sergii Kulykov, said his country was still very much involved in the search. “The more this case is in the public, the better, as there may be some informers,” he said. “It is a very sad story.”

Anyone with information is urged to call Pierce at 082 510 6516 or e-mail [email protected]

[email protected]

Share this article: