MEXICO CITY — Only minutes before a deadline, the family of one of Mexico's richest men went on nationwide television and agreed to pay a huge ransom to free him from kidnapers.
The announcement on the television program "24 Hours"--as demanded by the kidnapers--came just before the 11:30 p.m. Thursday deadline they had set to kill Alfredo Harp Helu, 50, president of Mexico's largest financial company. He was kidnaped March 14.
"We hope that soon now he will be home with us," his eldest son, Alfredo Harp Calderoni, told the show's host, Jacobo Jabludovsky.
The kidnaping of Harp Helu, listed as a billionaire in a 1993 Forbes magazine survey, was the most spectacular in a wave of kidnapings in Mexico.
The family's representatives said the ransom would fall short of the $30 million demanded June 23, but did not give a precise figure. In a letter on April 25, the kidnapers had demanded $100 million.
Harp Calderoni said the method of payment had not been worked out. He said his father should be freed 72 hours after the details were agreed upon.
Harp Helu is a leading member of the group that purchased Banco Nacional de Mexico from the government in 1991. The group combined it with the Accival stock brokerage company to form Grupo Banamex-Accival.
He is a cousin of Carlos Slim, who heads the recently privatized Telefonos de Mexico.
They are among the most prominent of Mexico's new rich, men of modest backgrounds who grew wealthy by investing in Mexico during the economic crisis of the early 1980s, when most old-line businessmen were trying to send money out of the country.
Mexico is experiencing about 1,000 kidnapings a year, trailing only Brazil and Colombia in Latin America, according to Daniel F. Donohue, director of risk management for Kroll Associates of New York. He said the ransom appeared to be one of the largest in the world over the last 30 years.
Nothing has been heard from Angel Losada Moreno, vice chairman of Grupo Gigante, the country's second-largest supermarket chain, since he was kidnaped April 25 in Mexico City.