Image: Claudia Melchers
AP file
This undated photo of Claudia Melchers was distributed by police.
updated 9/13/2005 5:34:40 PM ET 2005-09-13T21:34:40

Armed men broke into an upscale Amsterdam home and kidnapped the daughter of a millionaire whose fortune came from selling chemicals, including to Iraq in the 1980s, police said Tuesday. Her children were left unharmed.

Police said the gunmen stormed into the home of Claudia Melchers, 37, late Monday and took her away. They said they were treating it as a kidnapping.

Melchers, who runs a catering company, is the daughter of Hans Melchers, who owns Melchemie Holland BV, which supplied chemicals to Iraq in the 1980s. It was unclear whether the kidnapping was related to the company's business dealings.

The woman's two young children were left in the house in a southern Amsterdam neighborhood, police said. The kidnappers bound and gagged a neighbor who was in the house, and he was later freed by one of the children.

"At this moment we don't know where she is," police commissioner Willem Woelders told Dutch NOS television. "Anybody who has information about where she is should contact us so we can get her home safe."

Police circulated a photograph of Claudia Melchers and sealed off the house.

Company accused of illegally supplying chemicals
Melchemie has been at the center of accusations in the Dutch media of illegally supplying banned chemicals to Iraq in 1984, but it has denied intentionally violating export restrictions.

A statement posted on Melchemie's Web site acknowledged overlooking a chemical that could be used for poison gas in an export deal with Iraq but said the company recalled the shipment before it reached its destination.

It called the shipment "a one-time mistake" for which it paid a fine currently equivalent to more than $55,000. In 1989, it supplied chemicals to Iraq that were not under any international bans, the Web statement said.

Melchemie had $76 million in sales in 2002. It is wholly owned by Hans Melchers, who inherited it in 1986. He is one of the country's richest men, with a fortune estimated at $500 million, according to the business magazine Quote.

No one answered the telephone at the company's listed number following the police announcement.

Few kidnappings in the Netherlands
Kidnapping for ransom is rare in the Netherlands. The most famous case was the abduction of beer tycoon Freddie Heineken in 1983, for which the kidnappers were paid $10 million. The two kidnappers were released after lengthy prison terms, and one was killed last year in a gangland-style shooting.

In 1998, Hansje Boonstra-Raatjes, then a 62-year-old socialite and estranged wife of the chief executive of Royal Philips Electronics Co., was kidnapped and later found beaten and handcuffed. No ransom was demanded.

At least three other high-profile kidnappings were reported in the 1980s, including the 1987 kidnapping and murder of grocery multimillionaire Gerrit-Jan Heijn, who was murdered even as his company, Ahold, paid a ransom then worth $3.7 million and 1,000 cut diamonds.

Heijn's murderer was later arrested and jailed for 20 years.

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