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Publishing Magnate Robert Maxwell Found Dead in Atlantic

November 6, 1991 GMT

TENERIFE, Canary Islands (AP) _ Robert Maxwell, the flamboyant billionaire publisher, was found dead Tuesday. His nude body was recovered from waters off the Canary Islands hours after he disappeared from his yacht.

The 68-year-old Maxwell was thought to have drowned swimming or fallen off the 180-foot luxury craft.

Spanish radio, which reported that the body was found unclothed, said an autopsy would be conducted Wednesday. The body showed no sign of violence, it said.

Death ended the reign of a contentious press baron who battled unions, barked out orders in eight languages and bullied editors as he built a $2 billion media empire.

In the last chapter of his career, Maxwell was accused by an investigative journalist of having close links with the Israeli secret service Mossad, a charge he heatedly denied.

The Czechoslovak-born Maxwell, who escaped the Holocaust and emigrated to Britain in 1940, personally ran his publishing empire, often making minute-to- minute decisions. His death raised questions about the future of his debt- burdened holdings, which include New York’s Daily News.

Maxwell’s sons took over the businesses Tuesday.

″He was larger than life,″ said British Conservative Party lawmaker Anthony Beaumont-Dark. ″He was the Citizen Kane of his time. If you wrote a film about his life it would be rejected as unrealistic.″

British Prime Minister John Major called Maxwell ″a great character who will be missed.″

″Maxwell was a passionate friend of Israel and we are sorry about this heavy tragedy,″ Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said. ″God bless his memory.″

His body was found 20 miles northwest of Grand Canary Island and taken by helicopter to Gando air base, then to a morgue in Las Palmas, where it was identified by Maxwell’s wife, Elizabeth, and their son, Phillip.

Campbell Livingstone, the British vice-consul in the Canary Islands, said the two were somber but calm. He said he heard Mrs. Maxwell say ″something to the effect that her husband was a colossus in life and a colossus in death.″

Javier Herce of the Spanish merchant marine, citing police, said captain Gus Rankin reported that Maxwell was last seen by the crew at 4:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m. EST), and didn’t answer a knock on his cabin door at 9 a.m.

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At 12:45 p.m., after Maxwell failed to answer a business call and the crew discovered he was not on board, Rankin radioed a distress call, Cano said. Six hours later, the body was found.

The yacht Lady Ghislaine had been sailing from Santa Cruz de Tenerife to Grand Canary, said Cano, and it later berthed at Los Cristianos on the southwestern coast of Tenerife island, which is west of Grand Canary.

The Financial Times quotes Robert Pirie, president of Rothschild Inc. and Maxwell’s principal investment banker, as saying, ″Bob used to go swimming all the time without telling anybody.

″He would just go down the ramp and take a swim and it used to scare the hell out of his crew. I think he probably just went for a swim.″

In London, Charles Wilson, director of Maxwell’s Mirror Group Newspapers, said there had been no suggestion of foul play. ″We can only assume that Mr. Maxwell slipped and fell overboard,″ he said.

Weather officials said the skies were clear and seas calm at the time of Maxwell’s disappearance.

Maxwell had been due to deliver a speech to the annual dinner of the Anglo- Israel Association at a London hotel Monday night, but organizers were told about 30 minutes before the event began that he was ill. His son Ian delivered the speech instead.

Maxwell’s holdings range include several British tabloids, the Daily News and The European, an English-language weekly. He acquired the Daily News in March from the Tribune Co. after a five-month strike nearly closed the paper.

Before the announcement of Maxwell’s disappaearance, Maxwell Communications and its affiliate, Mirror Group Newspapers PLC, asked the London Stock Exchange to suspend trading in their shares.

Maxwell has always been heavily involved in the day-to-day operation of his companies, and his death could seriously undermine their ability to set policy and even make daily decisions.

Maxwell had been selling assets to raise money to meet a $750 million debt payment due in October 1992. Maxwell earlier this year sold 49 percent of the Mirror Group of newspapers in a public offering, and sold the publishing house Pergamon Press to Elsevier NV of the Netherlands. Last month, he sold some of his holdings in the U.S. publisher Macmillan to the British publisher Reed International for $146 million in cash.

The boards of Maxwell’s companies named one of Maxwell’s sons, Kevin, 32, as acting chairman of Maxwell Communication, and another son, Ian, 35, as acting chairman of the Mirror Group. The sons have long worked in the family business.

The Daily News said Kevin Maxwell would be chairman and publisher of the newspaper. ″We are completely committed to continuing the marvelous comeback of the newspaper by providing the support it needs to prosper in the years ahead,″ Kevin Maxwell said.

Maxwell was in the news recently when investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said in his book ″The Samson Option″ that Maxwell had close links with Israeli intelligence. Maxwell and his Mirror Group filed libel suits against Hersh and his publisher, Faber and Faber, which in turn countersued.

″I do know much more about him than I wrote,″ Hersh said in a television interview.

″I think the real story about Maxwell is going to be the stuff of newspapers and thrillers for years. He’s an amazing piece of work, he was.″ Maxwell’s total holdings, estimated to generate revenue of about $2.2 billion a year, include a number of British newspapers, including the Daily Mirror, Daily Record, The Sunday Mirror, and The Sunday Mail in Scotland.

His other holdings include a 14 percent stake in the British Printing & Communications Corp., Britain’s biggest printer, and The Racing Times, a U.S. daily horse-racing digest.

The Daily Mirror is Britain’s second-largest daily, with a circulation of 2.99 million. The Sun, owned by rival publishing tycoon Rupert Murdoch, is No. 1 with circulation of 3.72 million. The European, launched in May, has a circulation of 226,000.

Maxwell was born Labji Hoch, the son of Czech Orthodox Jewish peasants who were killed by the Nazis during World War II. After immigrating to Britain as a teen-ager, he joined the British army, became a captain and won the Military Cross for bravery.

His $21 million yacht, run by a crew of 13 or 14, can cruise thousands of miles without refueling and carries a variety of high-tech equipment. Maxwell had the front pages of London’s Daily Mirror faxed to him at sea.

Anne Robinson, a Daily Mirror columnist, said there was a feeling of tremendous gloom in the newsroom.

″Working for Robert Maxwell has always been sitting in a Wild West saloon,″ she said.

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