Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

It All Began When the Fat Billionaire Fell off His Luxury Yacht and Drowned; the Long-Awaited Report into the Late Robert Maxwell's Business Empire Is Published Today. Richard Holliday Describes the Man and His Byzantine Methods

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

It All Began When the Fat Billionaire Fell off His Luxury Yacht and Drowned; the Long-Awaited Report into the Late Robert Maxwell's Business Empire Is Published Today. Richard Holliday Describes the Man and His Byzantine Methods

Article excerpt

Byline: RICHARD HOLLIDAY

AT FIVE minutes to six on the evening of 5 November 1991, pilots from SAR, the Spanish air sea rescue service, confirmed the sighting of a body and directed their colleagues in high-powered cutters in the Atlantic below to map co-ordinate 27 47.6N - 16 06W, south-west of the island of Gran Canaria.

There, some 23 minutes later, the 6ft 2in, 20-stone corpse of Robert Maxwell was pulled from the waves six hours after he was reported missing from the deck of his [pound]12 million, 55-metre motor yacht, the Lady Ghislaine.

The yacht had anchored off the port of Los Cristianos, Tenerife, at 9.45am that morning. Maxwell was last seen alive by a crewman on deck at 4.25am.

He was last heard at 4.55am when he phoned the bridge ordering the airconditioning to be turned down.

At 11am, when there was no reply to a call for Maxwell from New York, yacht captain Gus Rankin ordered a thorough search, and at 12.15pm Maxwell was reported to the Spanish authorities as man overboard.

The fact he had last been seen alive seven hours before the alarm was raised has caused speculation to this day over whether he had fallen, deliberately jumped, or even been pushed.

Maxwell was 68 when he died, an astonishing career behind him. He had been a media tycoon who tried, and failed, to emulate Rupert Murdoch; a friend of the rich, famous and influential; a lover of champagne and caviar, fast cars and private jets; a football club chairman; a gambler who could afford to lose [pound]250,000 in a night on the tables.

He was also a war hero who won the Military Cross; a lifelong socialist and onetime Labour MP; an alleged arms dealer; and, supposedly, a spy for one or more of the KGB, MI6 and Israel's Mossad.

And within weeks of his death he was exposed and reviled as a cheat, a liar and a thief who plundered his own staff's pension fund to prop up his crumbling empire.

He liked to be referred to as "Cap'n Bob". One month after his death that had been replaced by "Captain Crook" in a headline in the New York Daily News - one of his own publications. The paper added that icons of corruption like former president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, were "rank amateurs in the theft department compared with Maxwell".

The Cap'n was also a ferocious bully. After then-Mirror editor Richard Stott called his journalists together to tell them the body had been identified as their chief - describing it as "a family tragedy" - staff adjourned to their regular watering hole, known as The Stab in the Back. There, award-winning Mirror photographer Kent Gavin raised his glass, saying: "At last we've got something to celebrate on 5 November."

Some employees were more loyal.

When he heard the news, The Guardian's political editor Michael White is said to have wandered into the Mirror's Westminster office whistling "When the red, red, robin keeps bob, bob, bobbing along". …

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