'They put me in a trunk head first': Cora restaurant chain president recounts kidnapping

·3 min read
Nicholas Tsouflidis testified in court on Nov. 16.  (Radio-Canada - image credit)
Nicholas Tsouflidis testified in court on Nov. 16. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

The trial for former Cora franchisee, Paul Zaidan, is shedding light on the mysterious kidnapping of the son of the breakfast restaurant chain founder's son in Mirabel in 2017.

Zaidan, 52, is facing charges of kidnapping, forcible confinement and extortion. The extent of his alleged involvement in the crime is unclear.

The first witness called to the stand Tuesday was 49-year-old Nicholas Tsouflidis, who is the alleged victim in this case, the president of the Cora restaurant chain and the son of the founder.

He told the court that while spending a quiet evening, alone, in his home in Mirabel Que., — located about 45 minutes north of Montreal — a stranger reportedly knocked on his door asking for help.

He said he left his home, and that's when the person pointed a gun at him and ordered him to lie on the ground.

"I hesitated. In my head [I'm thinking] this can't be happening, what is this?" Tsouflidis said.

According to him, two other assailants got out of a vehicle, entered his home and came out with a safe that contained $3,000 in cash.

"You're the one we want," the kidnappers told Tsouflidis, according to his court testimony.

After they tied his hands behind his back, they picked him up "like a piece of wood and put [him] in the trunk head first," Tsouflidis said.

911 call

Even though he was searched, Tsouflidis managed to keep his cell phone. After untying himself, he was able to call 911 from the trunk of the moving car.

"I'm in a trunk, I'm being kidnapped. My name is Nicholas Tsouflidis," he can be heard telling the dispatcher, in the 911 call recording presented in court.

He told the dispatacher he was the president of Cora and asked emergency services to follow his cell phone signal.

$11 million ransom

Tsouflidis told the court that his captors asked him for the phone number of his mother, Cora Tsouflidou.

"[That's when] I understood they knew who I was," he said.

According to the Crown prosecutors, Cora's founder was handed a $ 11-million ransom that night.

"I was screaming at them: You better free me, it'll never work," Tsouflidis told the court.

He then said the kidnappers became "less aggressive" once they realized he had called 911.

"I was trying to be unpleasant for them to be like, 'Okay, let's get rid of him, he's annoying," he said.

He said he saw five kidnappers, but only saw one of their faces. He also said they claimed to have been paid to abduct him.

Radio-Canada
Radio-Canada

Early in the morning, after being held hostage for more than eight hours, his captors allegedly put him back in the trunk of a vehicle to drop him off in a ditch along Champagne Road in Laval, where people passing by saw him and helped him out.

It did not appear that Tsouflidis's captors had injured him. Photos taken after he was found show scratches on his hands caused by handcuffs.

Circumstantial evidence

Tsouflidis knew the accused Paul Zaidan, who had lost his Cora franchise a few years earlier in Nuns' Island.

Zaidan's restaurant failed to meet Cora's standards, according to Tsouflidis.

The prosecution intends to call some 40 witnesses during the trial, including former employees of the accused.

The evidence against him is exclusively circumstantial, prosecutor Sarah Beaudry Leclerc said in her opening statement, and no direct evidence will be presented.

According to the Crown, an email address listed in the ransom letter that was found at the victim's home could be traced to a Samsung tablet purchased with Zaidan's credit card. The crown says he returned the device to the store it was purchased the day after the kidnapping.

The prosecution claims the same card was also allegedly used to purchase items used in the crime, such as equipment to tie up the victim.

"This will tell you a lot about the role that Paul Zaidan played in this kidnapping, kidnapping and extortion, said Beaudry Leclerc.

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