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Thursday, 29 March, 2001, 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK
Robert Maxwell: A profile
Robert Maxwell
Maxwell threatened many of his critics with libel
In seeking to explain Robert Maxwell's actions in later life, many commentators point to the extreme poverty and deprivation of his childhood.

The media mogul once claimed that he did not have a pair of shoes until he was seven.

Born in extreme poverty in the Carpathian mountains in then Czechslovakia, Jan Ludvik Hoch - as he was then - succeeded in building a publishing empire that spanned the world.

His death in November 1991 at the age of 68 initially prompted a series of eulogies for his achievements.

But in the weeks that followed and as more news emerged of the true state of his company's finances and his critics gained courage now that their fiery and unpredictable nemesis was dead - he was damned by press and public alike for the way he ran his businesses.

Robert Maxwell: Key Dates
Born on 10 June, 1923 in Czechslovakia
Founder and publisher of Pergamon Press from 1949 to 1991
Labour MP from 1964 to 1970
Chairman and chief executive of Maxwell Communications Corporation from 1981 to 1991
Chairman of Mirror Group Newspapers from 1984 to 1991
Chairman and chief executive of Macmillion from 1988 to 1991
Died on 5 November 1991

His body was later recovered from the sea off the Canary Islands after he had been reported missing from his private yacht - but no one has yet cleared up the mystery of his death.

Born in poverty

Robert Maxwell was born Jan Ludvik Hoch in Slatinske Doly in the Carpathian mountains, an area of extreme poverty, in Czechslovakia on 10 June, 1923.

His orthodox Jewish parents were victims of the Nazis, and he only just managed to escape the concentration camps to arrive in Britain in 1940.

Describing himself as "self educated", he spoke several languages and by the end of war, he had emerged as a British army officer with commendations for bravery.

After the war, he was located in Berlin, where he decided to publish scientific journals and set up Pergamon Press.

Political beast

Pergamon was quickly and hugely profitable and the now-married Maxwell decided to turn his attentions to politics.

Lady Ghislaine yacht
Robert Maxwell spent his last days on the Lady Ghislaine yacht
As one of the few business men who liked to proclaim his socialism, Maxwell stood for the Labour Party in Buckinghamshire in 1964.

He won and held his seat until 1970.

His relationship with the Labour party was an uneasy one, with the political party wary of angering the man who owned newspapers sympathetic to Labour principles.

Many people cowered from criticising him, not least because of his readiness to confront his critics in the libel courts.

First DTI enquiry

Even when he was a Labour MP, signs were emerging of his dishonesty.

In 1969, Maxwell agreed a takeover bid for Pergamon from Leasco, an American financial and data processing group.

However, when Leasco questioned Pergamon profits, the talks fell apart and Maxwell was subjected to a DTI enquiry.

The inspectors found that Pergamon's profits depended on transactions with Maxwell family private companies.

The DTI report said: "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."

Few business people could recover their career after such comments, let alone carry on to build a global publishing company.

Back in business

Dust had gathered on the DTI report by the time Maxwell came to take over the troubled British Printing Corporation in 1980, renaming it Maxwell Communications Corporation.

Maxwell had long hoped he would be able to take over a national newspaper, but had twice lost out to Rupert Murdoch, who succeeded in taking over the Sun and the News of the World.

He got his chance to run a national newspaper when he bought Mirror Group Newspapers in 1984 from Reed International.

The purchase of America's Macmillan publishers dragged his company further into debt.

In 1991, he floated MGN as a public company, desperate to raise cash because the rest of the company was veering towards bankruptcy with debts of over 2bn.

Exactly how desperate he had become was not clear until after his death, when it transpired that he had taken money from pension funds to keep his companies afloat and boost the share price.


Maxwell's entourage
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