Kidnapping: A Very Efficient Business

In Argentina in the early 1970s, leftist guerrillas started snatching executives of multinational companies and demanding ransoms. This culminated in the payment of $60 million to the Montoneros, a Peronist guerrilla group, for the release of the brothers Juan and Jorge Born, executives at the grain-exporting firm Bunge & Born and the sons of its president. The ransom seems noteworthy for its heft—at about $275 million in today’s money, it stands as the largest one paid in a conventional kidnapping case. (In 2017 Qatar reportedly paid $1 billion to an al-Qaeda affiliate and Iran to win the release of a royal hunting party.) But perhaps what makes the Born case more unusual in the history of the ransom trade is the fact that Jorge himself negotiated the price while captive. He had intimate knowledge of the company’s finances and thus had a precise sense of how much money could be raised—though not, crucially, how much ought to be paid. The deal he struck was delivered to Born père, who had refused the initial demand of $100 million, as a signed memorandum.

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