Austrian authorities thwart plot to kidnap crystal heiress Fiona Swarovski

Elite police commandos were providing round-the-clock protection for Austria's most famous couple crystal heiress Fiona Swarovski and her husband, Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser after authorities thwarted a kidnap-for-ransom plot, officials said Thursday.

Swarovski, 41, was in a secure, undisclosed location somewhere in the alpine province of Tyrol, said Gerald Hesztera, a spokesman for the Federal Criminal Investigations Bureau, Austria's equivalent of the FBI.

Police also were guarding Grasser, 37, although it remained unclear whether he also had been a target.

Officials said they tightened security around the couple, who wed in October 2005, after a Romanian prisoner serving time in a jail in Innsbruck tipped them to a plot allegedly hatched by a criminal gang from Eastern Europe to kidnap Swarovski and demand an undisclosed amount of cash.

Hesztera said the Romanian inmate, whose name was not released, provided "concrete information" about the plot, prompting police to take immediate action Wednesday as a precaution. He said investigators were working to track down the would-be kidnappers, but refused to elaborate.

"We are investigating in all directions," Hesztera said.

The mass-circulation Kronen Zeitung daily, citing unidentified police sources, reported Thursday that the prisoner had offered the information in hopes of getting his sentence lightened.

It said the plot to enter one of Swarovski's homes and abduct her had been well under way, and that the kidnappers had taken photographs of the couple's houses in Vienna and Tyrol, including shots of the alarm systems.

State television said members of Austria's elite Cobra paramilitary police were guarding a home owned by Swarovski in the ski resort town of Kitzbuehel.

Grasser declined to comment on the investigation as he emerged Thursday from a government meeting, telling reporters only: "The situation is difficult enough as it is."

His spokesman, Manfred Lepuschitz, played down the plot, praising the police for their quick action and saying the response pointed up the difficulty of pulling off a high-profile kidnapping in Austria.

Swarovski, a millionaire, is heir to her family's business, Swarovski Crystal. Headquartered in Innsbruck, it is known worldwide for its elegant handcrafted crystal sculptures, jewelry and fashion accessories.

Once romantically linked to Flavio Briatore, Renault's Formula One team leader, Swarovski has three children from a previous relationship. She married Grasser in a rain-soaked vineyard overlooking the Danube River just west of Vienna in what was the nation's celebrity wedding of the year, reports AP.

Paparazzi photographers have relentlessly pursued the tanned and telegenic couple. In June, a court awarded the couple Ђ40,000 (US$50,300) after upholding their invasion of privacy complaint against Germany's Bild newspaper for publishing photos of the pair sunbathing on the island of Capri.

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