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February 18, 2011 at 2:04 PM

Mobile World: Two Swype employees victims of theft in Barcelona

BARCELONA, Spain — Two of the four Swype employees in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress were victims of theft in separate incidents during their stay in the Spanish city. Swype, which develops touchscreen keyboard technology, is based in Seattle.

Brian Lysak, director of business development, was pickpocketed at 12:30 a.m. Thursday outside a restaurant.

“He came up from behind and started saying, ‘Barcelona, blah, blah, blah.’ He grabbed my shoulders and bumped my hip and as soon as he did that, I checked my pockets and I realized my wallet was gone,” Lysak said.

The man took off running and Lysak chased him down, caught him and held him until police arrested him, Lysak said. “I trail run a lot near my house on Cougar Mountain,” he said.

Another Swype employee, Andrea Wojcik, had her laptop bag taken Thursday while she was in a cafeteria at the conference center, Fira Barcelona. She lost her passport, two mobile phones, an iPad and a laptop.

Sundar Balasubramanian, a Swype employee who also attended, has traveled to Barcelona several times and said he thinks pickpocketing happens frequently. On a previous trip, he saw a man get his pockets picked after leaving a nightclub.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize Barcelona is not a great place to host Mobile World Congress because of the infrastructure and the crime,” he said.

The conference organizer, GSMA, said last year one percent of attendees were affected by crime, or 490 out of 49,000 attendees.

The association did not have any updated information on crime rates Friday. If the 2010 rate remained steady, then 600 out of this year’s 60,000 attendees would have been affected.

Spokesman Ben Evetts referred to an earlier security update from the organizers saying, “It should be noted that Barcelona is a very safe city with very low levels of violent crime. However, it is true that events like Mobile World Congress do attract petty crime, and this is what we’re tackling by putting in extra security measures.”

He said the extra measures included a police station inside the conference center, undercover and uniformed officers on motorcycles, a specific team to patrol the underground Metro transit system and a team to patrol the Olympic stadium area near Fira. Conference organizers repeatedly encouraged attendees each day via public broadcast to remove their badges when leaving the conference to avoid being targeted.

Were you at the conference and were you the victim of theft or other crime? Send me an e-mail at schan@seattletimes.com.

Update 2:52 a.m. Saturday: GSMA, the conference organizers, prefer to go by GSMA, so I have changed the reference above.

The organization also wanted to clarify that “at most” 1 percent of attendees were hit by crime in 2010. So it was at most 490 people who were affected last year.

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