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Informed Choice Radio Personal Finance Podcast

Feb 18, 2019

Kidnap for ransom is a lucrative but tricky business.

Millions of people live, travel, and work in areas with significant kidnap risks, yet kidnaps of foreign workers, local VIPs, and tourists are surprisingly rare and the vast majority of abductions are peacefully resolved - often for remarkably low ransoms.

In fact, the market for hostages is so well ordered that the crime is insurable. This is a puzzle: ransoming a hostage is the world's most precarious trade.

What would be the "right" price for your loved one - and can you avoid putting others at risk by paying it?

What prevents criminals from maltreating hostages? How do you (safely) pay a ransom?

And why would kidnappers release a potential future witness after receiving their money?

My guest on the podcast today is Anja Shortland, author of Kidnap: Inside the Ransom Business.

Anja is a Reader in Political Economy at King's College London. She's worked as an academic economist at Leicester and Brunel Universities, rising to fame for her work on the economics of Somali piracy.

She now studies private governance in the world's trickiest markets: hostages, fine art, and antiquities - and how people live, trade, and invest in complex and hostile territories.

Her book, Kidnap: Inside the Ransom Business, uncovers how a group of insurers at Lloyd's of London have solved a series of thorny problems for their customers. Based on interviews with industry insiders (from both sides), as well as hostage stakeholders, it uncovers an intricate and powerful private governance system ordering transactions between the legal and the criminal economies.

Here's my conversation with Anja Shortland, author of Kidnap, in episode 399 of Informed Choice Radio.