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Ian Robert Maxwell MC (10 June 1923 – 5 November 1991) was a Czechoslovakianmarker-born British media proprietor and former Member of Parliamentmarker (MP), who rose from poverty to build an extensive publishing empire.

Early life

Robert Maxwell was born Ján Ludvík Hoch in the small town of Slatinské Doly, Carpathian Rutheniamarker, the easternmost province of pre-World War II Czechoslovakiamarker (now Solotvino, Ukrainemarker) into a poor Yiddish-speaking Jewish family. His parents were Mechel Hoch, and Hannah Slomowitz. He had 8 siblings. In 1939, the area was reclaimed by Hungary. Most members of his family were killed after Hungary was occupied in 1944 by its former ally, Nazi Germany but he had already escaped, arriving in Britain in 1940 as a 17-year-old refugee. He joined the British Army Pioneer Corps in 1941 and transferred to the North Staffordshire Regiment in 1943. He fought his way across Europe from the Normandy beaches, at which time he was still a sergeant, to Berlin. His intelligence and gift for languages gained him a commission in the final year of the war, and eventual promotion to captain, and in January 1945 he received the Military Cross. It has been alleged, after his death, that in the same year he shot and killed the mayor of a German town which his unit was attempting to capture. It was during this time that he changed his name several times, finally settling on Ian Robert Maxwell. He almost never used the "Ian", however; he only retained it as a vestige of his original name. Also in 1945, he married Elisabeth "Betty" Meynard, a French Protestant woman, with whom he had nine children with the goal of "recreating the family he lost in the Holocaust. Five of them were subsequently employed within his companies; two died early (a daughter to leukaemia; a son following a car accident after six years on a life support machine).

After the war, Maxwell first worked as a newspaper censor for the British military command in Berlin in Allied-occupied Germany. Later, he used various contacts in the Allied occupation authorities to go into business, becoming the British and United States distributor for Springer Verlag, a publisher of scientific books. In 1951 he bought Pergamon Press Limited (PPL), a minor textbook publisher, from Springer Verlag, and went into publishing on his own. He rapidly built Pergamon into a major publishing house. By the 1960s, Maxwell was a wealthy man, while still espousing in public the socialism of his youth. However, it would appear that he already had been identified as a problem for some people. An obituary for the Barclays banker Thomas Ashton states: "One Oxford resident who came to Ashton's attention was Robert Maxwell – to whom Ashton firmly forbade his managers to lend."

Member of Parliament

In 1964 he was elected to the House of Commonsmarker for the Labour Party, and was MP for Buckinghammarker until he lost his seat in 1970 to the Conservative William Benyon. Maxwell was a prosecution witness in the obscenity case concerning the American novel Last Exit to Brooklyn in 1966. He enjoyed mixed popularity in the Labour Party, being perceived by some as arrogant and domineering.

Maxwell had also acquired a reputation for questionable business practices. In 1969 Saul Steinberg, who headed a company then known as Leasco Data Processing Corporation, was interested in a takeover bid for Pergamon. In negotiations, Maxwell falsely claimed that a subsidiary responsible for publishing encyclopedias was extremely profitable. Following Steinberg's withdrawal on the discovery of the dishonesty, Maxwell was the subject of an inquiry by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) under the Takeover Code, then in force, and at the same time the U.S. Congress was investigating Leasco's takeover practices. The DTI report concluded: "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. Maxwell lost control of Pergamon in the United Kingdom—but not in the United States—for a time. Backed by his editors, he resumed control and eventually sold the company.

Business activities

In 1970 Maxwell established the Maxwell Foundation in Liechtensteinmarker. In 1974 he reacquired PPL. In 1981 Maxwell acquired the British Printing Corporation (BPC) and changed its name to the British Printing and Communication Corporation (BPCC) and then to Maxwell Communications Corporation. The company was later sold off to a management buy-out, and is now known as Polestar. In July 1984 Maxwell acquired Mirror Group Newspapers from Reed International plc. MGN were publishers of the Daily Mirror, a pro-Labour Party newspaper. He also bought the American interests of the Macmillan publishing house.

By the 1980s Maxwell's various companies owned the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror, the Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail and several other newspapers, Pergamon Press, Nimbus Records, Collier books, Maxwell Directories, Prentice Hall Information Services, Macmillan (US) publishing, 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. In 1987 Maxwell purchased part of IPC Media to create Fleetway Publications.

Maxwell pioneered the dissemination of highly specialized scientific information, responding to the exponential growth of investment in academic research. After 1970, when research universities diverted attention from the growth of their libraries to the growth of financial reserves, he and other publishers were blamed for greatly increased subscription fees for scientific journals. The need to maintain profits for publishers and the profitability of higher education institutions created budget difficulties for academic libraries, and for publishers of monographs. At the same time, Maxwell's links with the Eastern European totalitarian regimes resulted in a number of biographies (normally considered to be hagiographies) of those countries' then leaders, with sycophantic interviews conducted by Maxwell, for which, in the UK, he received much derision.

Maxwell was also well known as the chairman of Oxford United Football Club, saving them from bankruptcy and leading them into the top flight of English football, winning the League Cup in 1986. Oxford United were to pay a heavy price for his involvement in club affairs when Maxwell's questionable business dealings came into the public domain. Maxwell bought into Derby County F.C. in 1987. He also attempted to buy Manchester United in 1984, but refused to pay the price that the owner Martin Edwards had put on the club.

Business difficulties

Rumours circulated for many years about Maxwell's heavy indebtedness and his dishonest business practices, such as illegal use of pension funds. The satirical magazine Private Eyemarker lampooned him as a "Cap'n Bob" and the "bouncing Czech." 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 Not Private Eye.

In 1990 he launched an ambitious new project, a transnational newspaper called The European. The following year he was forced to sell Pergamon Press and Maxwell Directories to Elsevier for £440 million to cover debts, but he used some of this money to buy the New York Daily News.

By late 1990, investigative journalists, mainly from the Murdoch papers, were exploring Maxwell's manipulation of his companies' pension schemes. During May 1991 it was reported that Maxwell companies and pension schemes were failing to meet statutory reporting obligations. Maxwell employees lodged complaints with British and U.S. regulatory agencies about the abuse of Maxwell company pension funds.

Christopher Hitchens' 1995 book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, claims that Maxwell was involved with Mother Teresa in a "fund-raising scheme" through his various newspaper businesses. According to the book: "Mr. Maxwell inveigled Mother Teresa into a fundraising scheme run by his newspaper group, and then, (having got her to join him in some remarkable publicity photographs), made off with the money." One such photograph is reproduced within the book.


On 5 November 1991, at the age of 68, Maxwell is presumed to have fallen overboard from his luxury yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, which was cruising off the Canary Islandsmarker, and his body was subsequently found floating in the Atlantic Ocean. He was buried on the Mount of Olivesmarker in Jerusalemmarker. The official verdict was accidental drowning, though some commentators have surmised that he may have committed suicide, and others that he was murdered. His daughter, Ghislaine Maxwell, quickly renounced on television the notion of an accidental death.

Politicians were swift to pay their tributes. The then Prime Minister, John Major, said Maxwell had given him 'valuable insights' into the situation in the Soviet Union during the attempted coup. He was a 'great character', Major added. Neil Kinnock, the then Labour Party leader, spoke of the former Labour MP for Buckingham, from 1964-70, as a man with "such a zest for life . . . Bob Maxwell was a unique figure who attracted controversy, envy and loyalty in great measure throughout his rumbustious life. He was a steadfast supporter of the Labour Party". It was later alleged that Maxwell had been financing the Labour leader's private office and that Maxwell was an agent of MI6, the United Kingdom's Secret Intelligence Service. One version, proposed by John Loftus and Mark Aarons, has Maxwell hounded to death by the British Secret Service that conspired to deny him the financial credit he needed to save his publishing empire.

Shortly before Maxwell's death, a former Mossad officer named Ari Ben-Menashe had approached a number of news organizations in Britain and the United States with the allegation that Maxwell and the Daily Mirror's foreign editor, Nick Davies, were both long time agents for the Israelmarker intelligence service, Mossad. Ben-Menashe also claimed that in 1986 Maxwell had tipped off 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 lured from London, where the Sunday Times had him in hiding, to Rome, whence he was kidnapped and returned to Israel, convicted of treason, and imprisoned for 18 years.)

No news organization would publish Ben-Menashe's story at first, because of Maxwell's famed litigiousness (through lawyers Maislish & Co.), but eventually New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh repeated some of the allegations during a press conference in London held to publicize The Samson Option, Hersh's book about Israel's nuclear weapons. On 21 October 1991, two Members of Parliament, Labour MP George Galloway and Conservative MP Rupert Allason (who writes books on the world of espionage under the pseudonym Nigel West) agreed to raise the issue in the House of Commonsmarker (with the protection of Parliamentary Privilege which allows MPs to ask questions in Parliament without risk of being sued for defamation), which in turn meant that British newspapers were able to report what had been said without fear of being sued for libel. Nevertheless, writs were swiftly issued by Mirror Group Solicitors on instruction from Maxwell, who called the claims "ludicrous, a total invention". Maxwell then sacked Nick Davies, and just days later, was found dead.

The close proximity of his death to these allegations, for which Ben-Menashe had offered no evidence, served to heighten interest in Maxwell's relationship with Israel, and the Daily Mirror has since published claims, again without evidence, that he was assassinated by Mossad after he attempted to blackmail them.

Maxwell was given a funeral in Israel better befitting a head of state than a publisher, as described by author Gordon Thomas:

On 10 November 1991, Maxwell’s funeral took place on the Mount of Olivesmarker in Jerusalemmarker, across from the Temple Mount.
It had all the trappings of a state occasion, attended by the country’s government and opposition leaders.
No fewer than six serving and former heads of the Israeli intelligence community listened as Prime Minister Shamir eulogized: "He has done more for Israel than can today be said" (Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad, St. Martin's Press, 1999).
A hint of Maxwell's service to the Israeli state was provided by Loftus and Aarons, who described Maxwell's contacts with Czech anti-Stalinist Communist leaders in 1948 as crucial to the Czech decision to arm Israel in their War of Independence that year. Czech military assistance was both unique and crucial for the fledgling state as it battled for its existence

Events after his death

Maxwell's death triggered a flood of revelations about his controversial business dealings and activities. It emerged that, without adequate prior authorisation, he had used hundreds of millions of pounds from his companies' pension funds to finance his corporate debt, his frantic takeovers and his lavish lifestyle. Thousands of Maxwell employees lost their pensions.

The Maxwell companies filed for bankruptcy protection in 1992. His sons, Kevin Maxwell and Ian Maxwell, were declared bankrupt with debts of £400 million. In 1995 the two Maxwell sons and two other former directors went on trial for fraud, but were acquitted in 1996. In 2001 the Department of Trade and Industry report on the collapse of the Maxwell companies accused both Maxwell and his sons of acting "inexcusably".

It came to light in early 2006 that, before his death, Maxwell was being investigated for possible war crimes in Germany in 1945. This led to renewed speculation that his death was a suicide.

In 2008, Maxwell's wife published her memoirs, A Mind of Her Own, which sheds light on her life with Maxwell when the publishing magnate was ranked as one of the richest people in the world.

A BBC drama titled Maxwell covering his life shortly before his death starring David Suchet was aired on 4 May 2007. Maxwell, through his software company Mirrorsoft, played a role in the acquisition of the video game Tetris from its developers in the Soviet Unionmarker and its eventual marketing and sale in the West.

See also


  1. "War crimes police tracked Maxwell", BBC, 10 March 2006
  2. Interview with Elisabeth Maxwell
  3. Maxwell: The final verdict
  4. "A mind of my own" by Elisabeth Maxwell
  5. Free Research Papers - Information Intelligence, 1991
  6. Daily Telegraph, 2007/04 Maxwell was a monster - but much more, too
  7. Obituaries: Lord Ashton of Hyde, The Telegraph, 28 August 2008, p23
  8. Dennis Barker and Christopher Sylvester "The grasshopper", - Obituary of Maxwell, The Guardian, 6 November 1991. Retrieved on 19 July 2007.
  9. "The pensioners' tale", BBC, 29 March 2001
  10. "Not Private Eye", Tony Quinn,, 6 March 2007
  11. John Loftus and Mark Aarons, The Secret War Against the Jews: How Western Espionage Betrayed the Jewish People, New York, St. Martin's Griffin, 1994.
  12. "Maxwell's body found in sea", Ben Laurance, John Hooper, David Sharrock, and Georgina Henry, The Guardian, 6 November 1991
  13. "Robert Maxwell was a Mossad spy : New claim on tycoon's mystery death", Gordon Thomas and Martin Dillon, Daily Mirror, 2 December 2002.
  14. "Review : Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad",
  15. Loftus and Aarons, The Secret War Against the Jews.
  17. Suchet in title role of BBC Two's Maxwell
  18. Tetris: A chip off the old bloc

Further reading

External links

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