In August 1991, Mauricio Macri, the current president of Argentina, was thrown into a coffin and hauled off to a hideout by unknown assailants. For at least some of Macri’s 12 days in captivity, his father suspected that Donald Trump was behind the disappearance.
That’s according to a new book out in Argentina this week, “El secuestro,” by the journalist Natasha Niebieskikwiat. Now, to be clear, there’s no evidence whatsoever that Trump directed or was involved in Mauricio Macri’s kidnapping. And apparently Macri’s father, Franco, only briefly entertained this “Trump theory.” But clearly, the elder Macri’s dealings with Trump in the arena of New York real estate left him with the impression that Trump could be treacherous enough to have ordered his son’s kidnapping years after their business relationship ended.
A few Argentine publications have highlighted one particular passage from the book in recent days under headlines like “Macri’s father thought Trump was behind his son’s kidnapping” and “The day Trump ‘kidnapped’ Mauricio Macri.” Here’s my rough translation of that passage:
“[Franco Macri] was paranoid that the person who’d orchestrated his son’s kidnapping was Donald Trump. The magnate had thrown him out of Manhattan, where Franco tried to enter the real estate business and also aspired to a greater prey, trash collection, an impenetrable world of mafias but lucrative and attractive in that neither him nor the fearless Mauricio could take it on. The worst thoughts passed through Franco’s mind. That’s why he appealed to Todman and in turn contacted Ackerman and Associates.”
Todman refers to Terence Todman, the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina at the time. Articles about the book refer to Ackerman and Associates as a Miami-based firm specializing in kidnapping and extortion that worked with ex-CIA and FBI agents. While it’s not clear where this information was sourced from, Niebieskikwiat reports in the book that Franco Macri’s initial suspicions jumped from the mafia to Trump, at which point the U.S. ambassador paid him a visit at home. When Macri asked Todman who he should reach out to in order to get his son back, Todman recommended Ackerman and Associates. It’s unclear what, if anything, came of that; Macri abandoned his suspicions about Trump once he made contact with the kidnappers, who demanded and received a multi-million-dollar ransom and freed Mauricio 12 days after capturing him. The ring of kidnappers, which included federal police officers, were caught just a few months later.
It’s true that Trump essentially ran Franco Macri, himself a construction and auto manufacturing tycoon, out of Manhattan in the early ’80s. My mentor Wayne Barrett detailed the Macri Group’s doomed attempt to break into real estate in the U.S. in his biography “Trump: The Deals And The Downfall.” Macri purchased a 65 percent stake in a project that came to be called Lincoln West, planned for the old Penn Central rail yards on the Upper West Side, from Abe Hirschfeld, a friend of the Trump family, in 1980. According to Barrett, the specter of Trump loomed over the project for years:
For two years Trump’s name hovered over Macri’s rezoning efforts, with half the West Side insisting that Macri was a mere “stand-in” for Trump and ridiculing the Macri organization as the only party involved in the development of the site that didn’t recognize that fact. While the West Siders saw Trump as the man behind Macri, the top staff in Macri’s organization began to wonder if he wasn’t funding their opposition, convincing themselves that it was Trump money that had covertly prompted a Sierra Club lawsuit that delayed the project for fourteen months.
The Macri brass was also uncertain that Chase Manhattan—the bank that had agreed to finance the purchase once the rezoning was obtained—would actually go through with the deal. They and the Palmieri executives making the sale attributed that fear to the Trump shadow that hung over the forty-foot-long closing table at the offices of Chase’s lawyers, Dewey Ballantine, in September 1982. Conrad Stephenson, the Chase regional real estate chief, pressed the Palmieri group to extend Macri’s option in an attempt to postpone the closing. While no extension was granted, Stephenson said he wanted to split the closing into two phases, providing part of the mortgage a few months later, even though such a split would mean that Macri would pay $2 million more for the land. Macri reluctantly assented. Both Macri and Palmieri officials agreed in interviews years later that they thought Stevenson was really trying to break the deal, and they believed Trump was behind the banker’s hesitation.
Stephenson, Barrett noted, served as Trump’s personal banker. But Macri’s fear that banks wouldn’t back the project unless Trump himself got involved eventually overshadowed any of his and his associates’ trepidations. As Trump and Macri tried to hash out a series of deals through the early ’80s, the Macris hosted Trump and his then-wife Ivana in Buenos Aires. But by 1985, under pressure as Chase failed to come through with construction financing, Macri was forced to sell to Trump for $115 million and abandon his hopes of going international with his business.
Given all his reporting on the Macri/Trump dealings, I asked Barrett what he made of the kidnapping anecdote.
“The extraordinary treachery trump employed to get the yards site back is described in great detail in the book,” he wrote me. “so macri certainly believed that trump was a business thug, but there was no suggestion of violence. macri’s banker betrayed him, ostensibly as a mole for trump. so it’s not hard to understand that he might have come to believe trump was capable of much worse.”
Argentine papers had speculated this year that Mauricio Macri might welcome a hypothetical Trump presidency with open arms, given that they’d laid the foundations for a working relationship decades ago with the Lincoln West project.
But in an interview with BuzzFeed News on Wednesday, Macri made clear that he wasn’t eagerly anticipating a Trump White House. Asked to choose between Trump and Hillary in a series of rapid-fire questions, Macri chose “Hillary.”
While he told BuzzFeed he’d work with whoever won in November to build stronger ties with the United States, he said it would be “hard to work with someone who would want to build walls.”
This post has been updated.