Robert Maxwell

Ian Robert Maxwell MC (10 June 1923 – 5 November 1991), born Ján Ludvík Hyman Binyamin Hoch, was a British media proprietor, and Member of Parliament (MP) and fraudster.[1] Originally from Czechoslovakia, Maxwell rose from poverty to build an extensive publishing empire. After his death, huge discrepancies in his companies' finances were revealed, including his fraudulent misappropriation of the Mirror Group pension fund.[2]

Robert Maxwell

Maxwell at the Global Economic Panel in Amsterdam (1989)
Member of Parliament
for Buckingham
In office
15 October 1964  18 June 1970
Preceded byFrank Markham
Succeeded byWilliam Benyon
Personal details
Ján Ludvík Hyman Binyamin Hoch

(1923-06-10)10 June 1923
Slatinské Doly, Czechoslovakia (now Solotvyno, Ukraine)
Died(1991-11-05)5 November 1991 (aged 68)
Sea around Canary Islands
Resting placeMount of Olives Jewish Cemetery, Jerusalem
CitizenshipCzechoslovak (1923–1946)
British (1946–1991)
Political partyLabour
Children9, including Christine, Isabel, Ian, Kevin and Ghislaine
OccupationPublisher, media proprietor, fraudster
Military career
Allegiance United Kingdom,  Israel
Awards Military Cross

Early in his life, Maxwell escaped from Nazi occupation, joined the Czechoslovak Army in exile in World War II and was decorated after active service in the British Army. In subsequent years he worked in publishing, building up Pergamon Press to a major publishing house. After six years as an MP during the 1960s, he again put all his energy into business, successively buying the British Printing Corporation, Mirror Group Newspapers and Macmillan Publishers, among other publishing companies.

Maxwell had a flamboyant lifestyle, living in Headington Hill Hall in Oxford, from which he often flew in his helicopter, and sailed in his luxury yacht, the Lady Ghislaine. He was litigious and often embroiled in controversy, including about his support for Israel at the time of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In 1989, he had to sell successful businesses, including Pergamon Press, to cover some of his debts. In 1991, his body was discovered floating in the Atlantic Ocean, having fallen overboard from his yacht. He was buried in Jerusalem.

Maxwell's death triggered the collapse of his publishing empire as banks called in loans. His sons briefly attempted to keep the business together, but failed as the news emerged that the elder Maxwell had stolen hundreds of millions of pounds from his own companies' pension funds. The Maxwell companies applied for bankruptcy protection in 1992.

Early life

Maxwell was born into a poor Yiddish-speaking Orthodox Jewish family in the small town of Slatinské Doly (now Solotvyno, Ukraine) in the easternmost province of pre-World War II Czechoslovakia.[3][4][5] His parents were Mechel Hoch and Hannah Slomowitz. He had six siblings. In 1939, the area was reclaimed by Hungary. Most members of his family died in Auschwitz after Hungary was occupied in 1944 by Nazi Germany, but he had already escaped to France.[3] In Marseille, he joined the Czechoslovak Army in exile in May 1940.[6]

After the defeat in France and the retreat to Britain, Maxwell (using the name "Ivan du Maurier",[7] or Leslie du Maurier[8] the surname taken from the name of a popular cigarette brand, Du Maurier) took part in a protest against the leadership of the Czechoslovak Army, and with 500 other soldiers he was transferred to the Royal Pioneer Corps and later to the North Staffordshire Regiment in 1943. He was then involved in action across Europe, from the Normandy beaches to Berlin, and achieved the rank of sergeant.[3] He gained a commission in 1945 and was promoted to the rank of captain.

In January 1945, Maxwell’s heroism in the British army during the war won him the Military Cross, presented by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. Attached to the Foreign Office, he served in Berlin during the next two years in the press section.[5] Maxwell naturalised as a British subject on 19 June 1946[9] and changed his name by deed of change of name on 30 June 1948.[10]

In 1945, he married Elisabeth "Betty" Meynard, a French Protestant, and the couple had nine children over the next sixteen years: Michael, Philip, Ann, Christine, Isabel, Karine, Ian, Kevin and Ghislaine.[11] In a 1995 interview, Elisabeth talked of how they were recreating his childhood family, victims of the Holocaust.[12] Five of his children Christine, Isabel, Ian, Kevin and Ghislaine were later employed within his companies. Daughter Karine died of leukemia at age three, while Michael was severely injured in a car crash in 1961, at the age of fifteen, when his driver fell asleep at the wheel. Michael never regained consciousness and died seven years later.[13][14][15][16]

After World War II, Maxwell used contacts in the Allied occupation authorities to go into business, becoming the British and US distributor for Springer Verlag, a publisher of scientific books. In 1951, he bought three-quarters of Butterworth-Springer, a minor publisher; the remaining quarter was held by the experienced scientific editor Paul Rosbaud.[17] They changed the name of the company to Pergamon Press and rapidly built it into a major publishing house.

In 1964, representing the Labour Party, Maxwell was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Buckingham and re-elected in 1966. He gave an interview to The Times in 1968, in which he said the House of Commons provided him with a problem. "I can't get on with men", he commented. "I tried having male assistants at first. But it didn't work. They tend to be too independent. Men like to have individuality. Women can become an extension of the boss."[18] Maxwell lost his seat in 1970 to the Conservative William Benyon. He contested Buckingham again in both 1974 general elections, but without success.

At the beginning of 1969, it emerged that Maxwell's attempt to buy the News of the World had failed.[19] The Carr family, which owned the title, was incensed at the thought of a Czechoslovak immigrant with socialist politics gaining ownership and the board voted against Maxwell's bid without any dissent. The News of the World's editor Stafford Somerfield opposed Maxwell's bid in an October 1968 front page opinion piece, in which he referred to Maxwell's Czechoslovak origins and used his birth name.[20] He wrote, "This is a British paper, run by British people ... as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding ... Let us keep it that way".[21] The tycoon who gained control was the Australian Rupert Murdoch, who later that year acquired The Sun, which had also previously interested Maxwell.[22]

Pergamon lost and regained

In 1969, Saul Steinberg, head of "Leasco Data Processing Corporation", was interested in a strategic acquisition of Pergamon. Steinberg claimed that during negotiations, Maxwell falsely stated that a subsidiary responsible for publishing encyclopedias was extremely profitable.[23][24] At the same time, Pergamon had been forced to reduce its profit forecasts for 1969 from £2.5 million to £2.05 million during the period of negotiations, and dealing in Pergamon shares was suspended on the London stock markets.[24]

This caused Maxwell to lose control of Pergamon and he was expelled from the board in October 1969, along with three other directors in sympathy with him, by the majority owners of the company's shares.[25] Steinberg purchased Pergamon. An inquiry by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) under the Takeover Code of the time reported in mid-1971:[5] "We regret having to conclude that, notwithstanding Mr Maxwell's acknowledged abilities and energy, he is not in our opinion a person who can be relied on to exercise proper stewardship of a publicly quoted company." It was found that Maxwell had contrived to maximise Pergamon's share price through transactions between his private family companies.[23]

At the same time, the United States Congress was investigating Leasco's takeover practices. Justice Thayne Forbes in September 1971 was critical of the inquiry: "They had moved from an inquisitorial role to accusatory one and virtually committed the business murder of Mr. Maxwell." He further continued that the trial judge would probably find that the inspectors had acted "contrary to the rules of natural justice".[26] The company performed poorly under Steinberg; Maxwell reacquired Pergamon in 1974 after borrowing funds.[27]

Maxwell established the Maxwell Foundation in Liechtenstein in 1970. He acquired the British Printing Corporation (BPC) in 1981 and changed its name first to the British Printing and Communication Corporation (BPCC) and then to the Maxwell Communications Corporation. The company was later sold in a management buyout and is now known as Polestar.

Later business activities

In July 1984, Maxwell acquired Mirror Group Newspapers, the publisher of six British newspapers, including the Daily Mirror, from Reed International plc.[28] for £113 million.[29] This led to the famous media war between Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch.

Mirror Group Newspapers (formerly Trinity Mirror, now part of Reach plc), published the nationals, Daily Mirror, a pro-Labour tabloid, Sunday Mirror, Sunday People, Scottish Sunday Mail and Scottish Daily Record. At a press conference to publicise his acquisition, Maxwell said his editors would be "free to produce the news without interference".[28] Meanwhile, at a meeting of Maxwell's new employees, Mirror journalist Joe Haines asserted that he was able to prove that their boss "is a crook and a liar".[30][31] Haines quickly came under Maxwell's influence and later wrote his authorised biography.[30]

In June 1985 Maxwell announced a takeover of Clive Sinclair's ailing home computer company, Sinclair Research, through Hollis Brothers, a Pergamon Press subsidiary.[32] The deal was aborted in August 1985.[33] In 1987 Maxwell purchased part of IPC Media to create Fleetway Publications. The same year he launched the London Daily News in February after a delay caused by production problems, but the paper closed in July after sustaining significant losses contemporary estimates put at £25 million.[34] At first intended to be a rival to the Evening Standard, Maxwell had made a rash decision for it to be the first 24-hour paper as well.[35]

By 1988 Maxwell's various companies owned, in addition to the Mirror titles and Pergamon Press, Nimbus Records, Macmillan Publishers (of which Collier was a part), Maxwell Directories, Prentice Hall Information Services and the Berlitz language schools. He also owned a half-share of MTV in Europe and other European television interests, Maxwell Cable TV and Maxwell Entertainment.[27] Maxwell purchased Macmillan, the American publishing firm, during 1988 for $2.6 billion. In the same year, he launched an ambitious new project, a transnational newspaper called The European. In 1991 he was forced to sell Pergamon Press and Maxwell Directories to Elsevier for £440 million to cover his debts;[27] he used some of this money to buy an ailing tabloid, the New York Daily News. The same year Maxwell sold 49 percent of the stock of Mirror Group Newspapers to the public.[5]

Maxwell's links with Eastern European totalitarian regimes resulted in several biographies (generally considered to be hagiographies[36]) of those countries' leaders, with interviews conducted by Maxwell, for which he received much derision.[5] At the beginning of an interview with Romania's Nicolae Ceaușescu, then the country's Communist leader, he asked, "How do you account for your enormous popularity with the Romanian people?"[37]

Maxwell was also the chairman of Oxford United, saving them from bankruptcy and attempting to merge them with Reading in 1983 to form a club he wished to call "Thames Valley Royals". He took Oxford into the top flight of English football in 1985 and the team won the League Cup a year later. Maxwell bought into Derby County in 1987. He also attempted to buy Manchester United in 1984, but refused owner Martin Edwards's asking price.

Maxwell was known to be litigious against those who would speak or write against him. The satirical magazine Private Eye lampooned him as "Cap'n Bob" and the "bouncing Czech",[39] the latter nickname having originally been devised by Prime Minister Harold Wilson[40] (under whom Maxwell was an MP). Maxwell took out several libel actions against Private Eye, one resulting in the magazine losing an estimated £225,000 and Maxwell using his commercial power to hit back with a one-off spoof magazine Not Private Eye.[41]

Israeli connection

1948 war

A hint of Maxwell's service to the Israeli state was provided by John Loftus and Mark Aarons, who described Maxwell's contacts with Czechoslovak Communist leaders in 1948 as crucial to the Czechoslovak decision to arm Israel in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. Czechoslovak military assistance was both unique and crucial for the fledgling state as it battled for its existence. It was Maxwell's covert help in smuggling aircraft parts into Israel that led to the country having air superiority during their 1948 War of Independence.[42]

Mossad allegations; Vanunu case

The British Foreign Office suspected that Maxwell was a secret agent of a foreign government, possibly a double agent or a triple agent, and "a thoroughly bad character and almost certainly financed by Russia." He had known links to the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), to the KGB, and to the Israeli intelligence service Mossad.[43] Six serving and former heads of Israeli intelligence services attended Maxwell's funeral in Israel, while Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir eulogized him and stated: “He has done more for Israel than can today be said."[44]

Shortly before Maxwell's death, a former employee of Israel's Military Intelligence Directorate, Ari Ben-Menashe, approached a number of news organisations in Britain and the US with the allegation that Maxwell and the Daily Mirror's foreign editor, Nicholas Davies, were both long-time agents for Mossad. Ben-Menashe also claimed that in 1986, Maxwell had told the Israeli Embassy in London that Mordechai Vanunu had given information about Israel's nuclear capability to The Sunday Times, then to the Daily Mirror. Vanunu was subsequently kidnapped by Mossad and smuggled to Israel, convicted of treason and imprisoned for eighteen years.[45]

Ben-Menashe's story was ignored at first, but eventually The New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh repeated some of the allegations during a press conference in London held to publicise The Samson Option, Hersh's book about Israel's nuclear weapons. On 21 October 1991, two MPs, Labour's George Galloway and the Conservative's Rupert Allason (also known as espionage author Nigel West), agreed to raise the issue in the House of Commons under parliamentary privilege protection,[46] which in turn allowed British newspapers to report events without fear of libel suits. Maxwell called the claims "ludicrous, a total invention" and sacked Davies.[47] A year later, in Galloway's libel settlement against Mirror Group Newspapers (in which he received "substantial" damages), Galloway's counsel announced that the MP accepted that the group's staff had not been involved in Vanunu's abduction. Galloway referred to Maxwell as "one of the worst criminals of the century."[48]


On 5 November 1991, Maxwell was last in contact with the crew of his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, at 4:25 a.m. local time, but was found to be missing later in the morning.[47] Maxwell was presumed to have fallen overboard from the vessel, which was cruising off the Canary Islands.[47][49] His nude body was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean and taken to Las Palmas.[45] The official ruling at an inquest held in December 1991 was death by a heart attack combined with accidental drowning,[50] although three pathologists had been unable to agree on the cause of his death at the inquest;[45] he had been found to have been suffering from serious heart and lung conditions.[51] Murder was ruled out by the judge and, in effect, so was suicide.[50]

Robert Maxwell was accorded almost a state funeral in Israel, attended by the prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, the president, Chaim Herzog, ″no less than six serving and former heads of Israeli intelligence"[52] and a galaxy of dignitaries and politicians, both government and opposition, and was buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.[53][54][55] Herzog delivered the eulogy, the Kaddish was recited by his fellow Holocaust survivor, friend and longtime attorney Samuel Pisar.[56]

Prime Minister John Major said Maxwell had given him "valuable insights" into the situation in the Soviet Union during the attempted coup of 1991. He was a "great character", Major added. Neil Kinnock, then Labour Party leader, spoke of him as a man with "a zest for life" who "attracted controversy, envy and loyalty in great measure throughout his rumbustious life."

A production crew conducting research for Maxwell, a biographical film by the BBC, uncovered tapes stored in a suitcase owned by his former head of security, John Pole. Later in his life, Maxwell had become increasingly paranoid of his own employees and had the offices of those he suspected of disloyalty wired so he could hear their conversations. After Maxwell's death, the tapes remained in Pole's suitcase and were only discovered by the researchers in 2007.[57]

Aftermath: Theft of pension funds, collapse of a publishing empire

Maxwell's death triggered a flood of instability, with banks frantically calling in their massive loans. His sons, Kevin and Ian, struggled to hold the empire together, but were unable to prevent its collapse. It emerged that without adequate prior authorization, Maxwell had used hundreds of millions of pounds from his companies' pension funds to shore up the shares of the Mirror Group to save his companies from bankruptcy.[58] Eventually, the pension funds were replenished with money from investment banks Shearson Lehman and Goldman Sachs, as well as the British government. This replenishment was limited and also supported by a surplus in the printers' fund, which was taken by the government in part payment of £100 million required to support the workers' state pensions. The rest of the £100 million was waived. Maxwell's theft of pension funds was therefore partly repaid from public funds. The result was that in general pensioners received about 50 percent of their company pension entitlement.

The Maxwell companies filed for bankruptcy protection in 1992. Kevin Maxwell was declared bankrupt with debts of £400 million. In 1995, Kevin and Ian and two other former directors went on trial for conspiracy to defraud, but were unanimously acquitted by a twelve-man jury in 1996.

In November 1994, Maxwell's widow, Elisabeth, published her memoirs, A Mind of My Own: My Life with Robert Maxwell,[59] which sheds light on her life with Maxwell, when the publishing magnate was ranked as one of the richest individuals in the world.[60] She devoted much of her life to researching the Holocaust and to Jewish-Christian dialogue. She died on 7 August 2013.[61]

See also


  1. "Robert Maxwell's sons speak out about their fraudster father". Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  2. "A Notorious Fraud – the Robert Maxwell Farrago". Australian Guardians. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  3. Марк Штейнберг. Евреи в войнах тысячелетий. p. 227. ISBN 5-93273-154-0 (in Russian)
  4. Иван Мащенко (7–13 September 2002). Медиа-олигарх из Солотвина. Зеркало недели (in Russian) (#34 (409)). Archived from the original on 22 December 2012.
  5. Whitney, Craig R. (6 November 1991). "Robert Maxwell, 68: From Refugee to the Ruthless Builder of a Publishing Empire". The New York Times. p. 5.
  6. Ludvík Hoch (Maxwell) in the database of Central Military Archive in Prague
  7. "Naughty Boys: Ten Rogues of Oxford". Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  8. LLC, Sussex Publishers (May 1988). Spy. Sussex Publishers, LLC.
  9. "No. 37658". The London Gazette. 19 July 1946. p. 3739.
  10. "No. 38352". The London Gazette. 13 July 1948. p. 4046.
  11. Haines, Joe (1988). Maxwell. London: Futura. pp. 434 et seq. ISBN 0-7088-4303-4.
  12. Witchell, Alex (15 February 1995). "AT LUNCH WITH: Elisabeth Maxwell; Questions Without Answers". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 October 2013.
  13. Maxwell: The final verdict
  14. A mind of my own by Elisabeth Maxwell
  15. "Free Research Papers – Information Intelligence, 1991". 28 March 1999. Archived from the original on 3 November 2013. Retrieved 31 October 2013.
  16. Rampton, James (28 April 2007). "'Maxwell was a monster - but much more, too'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  17. Haines (1988) 135
  18. Barwick, Sandra (25 October 1994). "The beast and his beauties". The Independent.
  19. "1969: Murdoch wins Fleet Street foothold". BBC. 2 January 1969.
  20. Greenslade, Roy (2004) [2003]. Press Gang: How Newspapers Make Profits From Propaganda. London: Pan. p. 395.
  21. Grundy, Bill (24 October 1968). "Mr Maxwell and the Ailing Giant". The Spectator. p. 6.
  22. "The Maxwell Murdoch tabloid rivalry". BBC News. 5 November 2011.
  23. Dennis Barker and Christopher Sylvester "The grasshopper", – Obituary of Maxwell, The Guardian, 6 November 1991. Retrieved on 19 July 2007.
  24. Nicholas Davenport "Money Wanted: A Board of Trade inquiry", The Spectator, 29 August 1969, p.24
  25. Nicholas Davenport "Money: The End of the Affair", The Spectator, 17 October 1969, p.22
  26. Betty Maxwell, p. 542
  27. "Robert Maxwell: Overview",
  28. "Briton Buys the Mirror Chain", The New York Times, 14 July 1984
  29. Roy Greenslade Press Gang: How Newspapers Make Profits From Propaganda, London: Pan, 2004 [2003], p.395
  30. "Say It Ain't So, Joe", The Spectator, 22 February 1992, p.15
  31. Roy Greenslade Press Gang, p.395
  32. "Sinclair to Sell British Unit". The New York Times. 18 June 1985. Retrieved 4 December 2009.
  33. "Sinclair: A Corporate History". Planet Sinclair. Retrieved 4 December 2009.
  34. "Maxwell Closes London Paper", Glasgow Herald, 25 July 1987, p.3
  35. Duncan Campbell "The London legacy of Cap'n Bob", The Guardian, 28 August 2006
  36. David Ellis and Sidney Urquhart "Maxwell's Hall of Shame", Time, 8 April 1991
  37. Editorial: "Breaking the Spell", The Spectator, 21 December 1991, p.3
  38. "", Headington History
  39. Jon Kelly "The strange allure of Robert Maxwell", BBC News, 4 May 2007
  40. Reuters "Murdoch conclusion stirs memories of his old foe Maxwell", Chicago Tribune, 1 May 2012
  41. "Not Private Eye", Tony Quinn,, 6 March 2007
  42. John Loftus and Mark Aarons, The Secret War Against the Jews.
  43. The Telegraph, 2 Nov. 2003 "FO Suspected Maxwell Was a Russian Agent, Papers Reveal"
  44. Gordon Thomas, Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), p. 23)
  45. Robert Verkaik "The Mystery of Maxwell's Death", The Independent, 10 March 2006
  46. which allows MPs to ask questions in Parliament without risk of being sued for defamation.
  47. Ben Laurance and John Hooper, et al "Maxwell's body found in sea", The Guardian, 6 November 1991
  48. "Scottish MP wins libel damages", The Herald (Glasgow), 22 December 1992
  49. "Robert Maxwell: A Profile". BBC News. 29 March 2001. Retrieved 4 April 2009.
  50. Larry Eichel "Maxwell's Legacy Of Money Troubles Maxwell's Own Daily Mirror Newspaper Now Routinely Calls Him 'The Cheating Tycoon'", Philadelphia Inquirer, 14 December 1991
  51. Marlise Simons "Autopsy Indicates Maxwell Did Not Drown", The New York Times, 12 December 1991
  52. Gordon Thomas: Gideon's Spies. The Secret History of the Mossad, page 210
  53. Clyde Haberman "The Media Business; Maxwell Is Buried In Jerusalem", The New York Times, 11 November 1991
  54. Israel gives Maxwell farewell fit for hero, Washington Post, 11 November 1991
  55. George Galloway sheds light on Maxwell family and its links to Jeffrey Epstein, 23. August 2019
  56. Maxwell, Colossus Even in Death, Laid to Rest on Mount of Olives,, 11 November 1991
  57. "BBC reveals secret Maxwell tapes". BBC. 25 April 2007.
  58. Prokesch, Steven (24 June 1992). "Maxwell's Mirror Group Has $727.5 Million Loss". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  59. Diski, Jenny (26 January 1995). "Bob and Betty". London Review of Books. Retrieved 16 December 2014.
  60. MacIntyre, Ben (1 January 1995). "A Match for Robert Maxwell". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  61. Roy Greenslade, "Betty, Robert Maxwell's widow, dies aged 92", The Guardian (9 August 2013)
  62. Kempley, Rita (19 December 1997). "'TOMORROW NEVER DIES': JAMES BOND ZIPS INTO THE '90S". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  63. Turner, Kyle (30 May 2018). "There's No News Like Fake News: Tomorrow Never Dies Today". Paste Magazine. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  64. "Suchet in title role of BBC Two's Maxwell". 16 February 2007. Retrieved 31 October 2013.
  65. Luft, Oliver (25 November 2008). "UK scoops seven International Emmys". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  66. Benedict Nightingale. "Portrait of a megalomaniac." The Times, London, 13 January 2006: pg 39.
  67. Archer, Jeffrey (1996). The Fourth Estate (First ed.). London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0002253186.
  68. Aviv, Juval (2006). Max (First ed.). London: Random House UK. ISBN 1844138755.

Further reading

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Frank Markham
Member of Parliament for Buckingham
Succeeded by
William Benyon
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