The alleged kidnapping of British model Chloe Ayling in Italy has become more complicated after it was revealed that she was seen shopping with her alleged captor during the period she was supposedly being held hostage.
Ayling’s Italian attorney, Francesco Pesce, told reporters that the 20-year-old woman feared for her life and went on the shopping trip after deciding it would be better to cooperate with her captor.
“She thought the best idea was to go along with it and be nice to her captor,” Pesce told the BBC. “He told her he wanted to release her somehow and some time.”
Ayling originally told Italian police that she had traveled to Italy for what she assumed was a photo shoot, but was then kidnapped, drugged, and hidden in a suitcase to be sold online to the highest bidder, authorities said.
She was released on July 17 after her captors discovered she had a two-year-old child, she told police. She was dropped off at the British consulate in Milan, where a suspect was arrested.
Ayling broke down on the second day of questioning after Italian authorities showed her a statement from a salesperson who said she had sold the model shoes while she was with the suspect on the day before she was released, according to court documents obtained by the Associated Press.
According to the documents, Ayling said through tears that she didn’t have a “reasonable explanation” for going shopping with the suspect, but had considered it a possible way to escape.
Ayling said she went to an apartment in Italy where she believed the scheduled photo shoot would take place, but instead was attacked by multiple men and drugged, before being put in a suitcase and tossed in the back of a car, police said.
“I think I lost consciousness,” she said in a statement given to the Telegraph. “When I woke up I was wearing a pink bodysuit and the socks I’m in now. I realized I was in the boot of a car, with my wrists and ankles tied and my mouth taped. I was inside a bag, with only a small hole that allowed me to breathe.”
She was allegedly taken to a remote home in rural Italy by three or four men, who tied her hands and feet to a chest of drawers inside the residence.
Shortly after she was dropped off the consulate, Lukasz Pawel Herba, a Polish citizen and British resident, was arrested and charged with kidnapping to extort money and falsifying documents.
Police also said Herba told Ayling that her captors were part of a group called the “Black Death,” and that they would auction her off on the Dark Web. Police said the group also asked Ayling’s modeling agency to pay a $300,000 ransom.
Police said they are looking for four other accomplices, the AP reported.
“I have been through a terrifying experience,” Ayling said in a prepared statement after she returned to the United Kingdom on Sunday. “I feared for my life second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour.”
Ayling told police she first met the suspect while she was in Paris for a modeling job in April, and that he paid her cab fare at the airport after canceling a modeling job, saying his camera was broken and sending her back home.
Herba told police that he canceled the Paris job after he realized a group of Romanians intended to kidnap Ayling. He said the Romanians gave him $649,000 to rent properties around Europe. He said he initially believed that the properties would be used to store clothes, but was later brought into the kidnapping scheme when he needed money to pay for his treatment for leukemia.
Police in Milan expressed doubt about his story, and said he provided no evidence to confirm his cancer diagnosis.
Herba also claimed he did not participate in Ayling’s kidnapping, but instead came to her rescue when he saw her pictures for the online auction. He told police that she was free to leave after the Romanians abandoned the property, but that she choose to stay, according to the court documents obtained by the AP.
Ayling did tell police that after a couple of days of captivity, Herba untied her handcuffs and that they slept in the same double bed, but he did not assault her, according to the court documents. She said she did not leave because Herba told her “Black Death” members were watching.
Court documents claim that Herba told Ayling that top members of “Black Death” were upset to discover she had a son. He said he had paid part of her ransom, and that she would have to pay the remaining $50,000 upon her release. He also said Black Death had other conditions for her release, such as not speaking ill of the group, according to the filings.
Ayling’s lawyer said the ordeal has left the model traumatized, and that she is cooperating with officials in Italy, Poland, and the UK.