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Bannatyne posts reward for blackmailer's identity

Serial entrepreneur and Dragon's Den star Duncan Bannatyne has received an investment offer somewhat different to his normal fare: an anonymous individual has requested £35,000 on the threat of harming Duncan's daughter.

The threat was communicated to Bannatyne and his daughter late last month on a Twitter account named YuriVasilyev_, which has sent repeated links to a Pastebin posting which makes chilling reading.

"We are the men of Belarus," the original posting reads. "We do not give up. We will stand tall. Give us £35,000. Expect us," the message ends, echoing the style of hacktivism collective Anonymous.

A later message is more explicit in its requirements. "Dear Dragon," it reads. "My name is Yuri Vasilyev and I'm looking for a £35,000 investment to stop us hurting your Hollie Bannatyne. We will bring hurt and pain into your life. We are watching her. She is very attractive. Want photos? Tweet using the hashtag #4money to confirm payment will be made."

Each posting is signed with the name Yuri Vasilyev and the nickname Hrodna, which is a city in Belarus near the Polish border. Evidence obtained by Bannatyne suggests a Moscow origin for the messages, however.

Rather than 'invest' in Vasilyev's kind offer, Bannatyne has turned to Twitter for help with an offer straight from the script of thriller Ransom. "I offer [a] £25,000 reward for the capture of the coward who calls himself Yuri Vasilyev," Bannatyne tweeted earlier today. "Double if his arms are broken."

"My people are getting closer to you every minute," he told Vasilyev a few minutes later. "Run and hide you little coward in Moscow."

Bannatyne has now raised the reward to £30,000, and information has come flooding in from his followers. Links to social networking profiles have been provided, but seem to ignore the possibility - or likelihood - of a 'joe job,' where a ne'er-do-well forges messages from his intended victim to others as part of a smear campaign.

When a follower pointed out to Bannatyne that the offer of a doubled reward if the person's arms were broken is incitement to grievous bodily harm, Bannatyne dismissed the possibility. "I will gladly do my time," he posted in response.

Bannatyne's Twitter account is currently updating with more information as he receives it, and judging by some of the content he does not appear to be acting on legal advice.

UPDATE 14:34
Bannatyne has deleted his post offering double the reward money if the blackmailer's arms are broken, although the message lives on in the form of numerous retweets and in this cached copy from one of our smartphone Twitter apps.

UPDATE 15:15
Although the Twitter account YuriVasilyev_ is still active, the blackmailer's Pastebin postings containing the threats themselves have been removed by the site. Bannatyne himself has gone remarkably quiet, suggesting that his legal team has finally convinced him of the inadvisability of incitement to violence on a service which has seen a man arrested for exasperated 'threats' to blow up an airport.