IN THE early 1970s, leftist guerrillas in Argentina discovered a lucrative new way to make money: kidnap millionaires. Panicking firms would agree to huge ransoms, more concerned with freeing their executives than driving down the fee. That was not just bad for businesses. It also became a textbook case of how poor negotiating can send future ransoms rocketing and attract new entrants to the kidnapping trade. In Argentina, this culminated in the payment of an undisclosed ransom in 1975 for the release of Juan Born, followed by a $60m ransom for his brother, Jorge. The latter figure, $275m in today’s money, is the highest ransom known in modern times.
One reason it marked a high point is the spread of kidnapping-and-ransom (K&R) insurance. This is involved in a minority of the $0.5bn-1.5bn thought to be paid out in ransoms each year, but the share is growing. Around three-quarters of Fortune 500 companies pay to cover some employees. Insurers reimburse the ransom and, at least as...Continue reading