ROBERT MAXWELL Biography - People in the News and Media


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Name: Robert Maxwell                                                                       
Born: 10 June 1923 Czech Republic                                                         
Died: 5 November 1991 Sea around Canary Islands                                           
Ian Robert Maxwell (June 10, 1923 - November 5, 1991) was a Czechoslovakian-born           
British media proprietor and former Member of Parliament, who rose from                   
poverty to build an extensive publishing empire, which collapsed after his death           
due to the fraudulent transactions Maxwell had committed to support his business           
empire, including illegal use of pension funds.                                           
Robert Maxwell was born Jin Ludvak Hoch in the small town of Slatinske Doly,               
Carpathian Ruthenia, the easternmost province of pre-World War II Czechoslovakia into a   
poor Yiddish-speaking Jewish family. In 1939, the area was reclaimed by Hungary           
to which it had belonged for a thousand years. Most of his family was 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. In the same year he shot and killed the mayor of a German town             
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.           
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.             
In 1964 he was elected to the House of Commons for the Labour Party, and was MP           
for Buckingham 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, having what was perceived by some to be an 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 England but not in the United States for a             
time. Backed by his editors, he resumed control and eventually sold the company.