BRIDGETOWN, Barbados -- Convicted 'Great Train Robber' Ronald Biggs, whose kidnapping from a Rio de Janeiro bar was denounced as a hoax, has asked to be returned to Brazil, Brazilian officials said today.
A spokesman for the Brazilian diplomatic mission in Barbados said Biggs asked local authorites to be taken back to Rio de Janeiro but that no official request had been made to his office.
Immigration officials in Barbados said today four of the men with Biggs were British and the fifth was an American, but they refused to give their names or hometowns. Officials said the five would remain in the Barbados prison until the government decides whether they will be allowed to remain on the island or be expelled.
Biggs' friends said they have retained an American lawyer to fly immediately to Barbados to fight Biggs' possible extradition to England.
Armin Heim, a West German photographer who worked as Biggs's unofficial publicity agent, said lawyer David S.J. Neufeld of Huntington, N.Y., was flying to Barbados tonight.
Brazilian authorities refused to take seriously reports that he was kidnapped last week, believing it might be a hoax to promote the publication of his memoirs in Britain.
But officials in Barbados confirmed he was kidnapped and tentatively identified his abductors as agents of a London-based security firm of Single Point Ltd., who took him out of Brazil aboard the luxury yacht, How Can I II.
The yacht, chartered in Antigua two weeks ago, developed engine trouble off Barbados's southeast coast Sunday night and was escorted into Bridgetown harbor by the Barbadian coast guard, authorities said.
Biggs, 51, took part in the so-called Great Train Robbery 17 years ago and escaped from a British prison to live openly in Brazil. He could not be extradited because of fathering a Brazilian child.
Police said they were questioning Biggs and seeking to check his identity. Officers cordoned off the white-and-blue yacht tied at a marina in Bridgetown harbor.
British assistant high commissioner David Montgomery said that if Biggs was identified by fingerprint records being sent from London, Britain would move to extradite him.
Montgomery said Barbados police were holding Biggs and five other men they believed kidnapped him from Brazil last week.
'One could describe his condition as what you would expect of someone who had been in a yacht for four or five days,' said Montgomery. 'He was not unshaven but certainly needing a bath.'
Almost as much mystery was attached to the police discovery of Biggs on a yacht off Barbados as accompanied his prison escape 15 years ago and his exile stays in Australia and Brazil.
Police in Barbados said Biggs was kidnapped from his haven in Rio de Janeiro, stuffed in a canvas bag and flown 2,000 miles on a private jet to Belem, where he was placed on a yacht bound for Antigua.
Biggs' friends in Brazil said he was kidnapped to a country where he can be extradicted easily to England by a group of adventurers seeking to return him to jail and then sell the story to the British press, which has followed the 51-year-old fugitive's exploits for years.
Reports in Barbados said Biggs was kidnapped by men claiming to belong to a British security firm called Single Point Ltd.
But in all the accounts, there is no further mention of the kidnappers, specifically where they are now.
The accounts pick up with the British ambassador coming aboard and then police coming on deck, removing the stocky, curly-haired member of the gang that pulled off the $7 million 1963 Great Train Robbery, taking him to police headquarters and verifying his identity.
Officials said Britain and Barbados have an extradition treaty, and there was little doubt the escapee would be returned to Britain, where 28 years of a 30-year prison term await him.
The pre-dawn robbery on the morning of Aug. 8, 1963, was the biggest heist up to that time. It took trucks to cart off the piles of untraceable one-pound notes. But Biggs said he exhausted his share of the loot several years ago.
Biggs' memoirs, 'Ronnie Biggs, his own story' is scheduled for publication in Britain at the end of the month and Brazilian police and other skeptics suspected Biggs had masterminded his own 'kidnapping' for publicity to launch his book. But Barbados police said the abduction story seemed genuine.
Biggs was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment in 1963 but the money was never found. He escaped the walled prison after only two years, fled to Australia, and when investigators were closing in, disappeared again to surface in Brazil in 1974.
British efforts to have him returned were blocked when his girlfriend became pregnant and he automatically received immunity under a law prohibiting deportation of fathers of Brazilian children.
Biggs lived in a comfortable apartment overlooking Rio's famed bay with his son Michael, now 6, and a maid.
Biggs said shortly before the kidnapping he had 'no desire to return to my native sod' but also opined he would expect only three to five years in prison because people would oppose 'poor old Bigsie rotting away in prison after having led an almost virtuous life for 15 years.'