Baron Edouard-Jean Empain, a Belgian businessman best known for surviving a kidnapping in 1978, has died at the age of 80.
Empain was the scion of a long line of wealthy businessmen – the Villa Empain on Brussels’ Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, now a museum run by the Boghossian Foundation, was once the home of a member of the family.
In January 1978, Empain was the CEO of the Empain-Schneider group, made up of 300 companies with 120,000 employees, when he was abducted from in front of his home in Paris. His kidnappers demanded a ransom of 80 million French francs (about €12 million). The demand was later reduced to half of that.
To prove their serous intent, as well as showing they in fact held Empain, they also sent the family the first joint of the little finger of his left hand. He was later released, and his kidnappers tracked down, to end up with sentences of five to 20 years in prison. One kidnapper had been killed during a botched attempt to hand over the ransom.
According to his own account, only his pet Labrador was pleased to see him return alive; his relatives and business partners had already written him off as dead. During his absence, family members and colleagues had already started leaking stories to the press concerning his interest in betting and in women. When he was in fact released, his position at the top of the company had been severely undermined.
The Empain group’s activities included the construction of the Paris Métro, as well as other railway construction. They were also responsible for the construction of the Heliopolis district of Cairo.
In 1981 he sold his shares in the group to the French Paribas, relinquishing all Belgian control, and went to live in Monaco.