US & Canada

Fiat heir Lapo Elkann 'faked own kidnapping' in New York

Lapo Elkann in front of a Fiat Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Fiat heir Lapo Elkann allegedly called his family to say he had been kidnapped

An heir to the Fiat fortune stands accused of falsely claiming he had been kidnapped by a transgender prostitute.

Lapo Elkann called his family from New York to demand a $10,000 (£8,000) ransom "to guarantee his safety", a US official told the Associated Press.

But having found him in Manhattan, investigators now believe he concocted the story after he ran out of money following a drink and drugs binge.

The grandson of Fiat's Gianni Agnelli is now due in court in January.

'Very interesting characters'

Mr Elkann, who was arrested on a misdemeanour charge of falsely reporting an incident, had only arrived in the US last week.

The Italian had told his Instagram followers he was going abroad to pursue "a lot of projects in development... a lot of new ideas" in a rambling video posted on Thursday.

Mr Elkann, dressed in a bright red suit, also said the business trip would bring him into contact with "many very interesting characters".

Instead, media reports in the US and Italy say the 39-year-old spent two days with the woman, before calling his family in order to get more money.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Police decided to charge him after finding him outside this Manhattan apartment block

He claimed he had been held in a Manhattan flat from about 17:00 local time on Friday, until police arrested him outside a public housing complex at about 02:00 local time on Sunday.

Mr Elkann - who made headlines in Italy in 2005 after he was hospitalized for a drug overdose in Turin - runs a company called Italia Independent.

He has not yet returned a message seeking comment from AP. His publicist, Alessia Margiotta Broglio, declined to comment.

Who is Lapo Elkann?

Lapo Elkann is the great-great-grandson of Giovanni Agnelli, who funded Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, or Fiat, in Turin, Italy, in 1899.

His mother is Countess Margherita Agnelli de Pahlen, daughter of the late Gianni Agnelli, said to have been the richest Italian businessman in recent history.

Image copyright Instagram
Image caption Mr Elkann regularly posts pictures of himself to Instagram

The Agnelli family not only own Fiat, but also Turin newspaper La Stampa and football club Juventus.

But despite being part of the shareholding family, Mr Elkann - whose father Alain is an American-born author - is not involved in the family business. Instead, his brother John Elkann was chosen as heir to his grandfather on Mr Agnelli's death in 2003.

However, the family wealth has made them the equivalent of royalty in Italy, and Mr Elkann is regularly pictured at social events, including the wedding of Pierre Casiraghi, son of Princess Caroline of Monaco, in 2015.

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