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Ghislaine Maxwell’s family history marked by scandal, secrecy and conspiracy

Jewish father of British socialite convicted in Epstein sex trafficking case was rumored to work for Israeli intelligence, died mysteriously in 1991

An undated photo shows British newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell, father of Ghislaine Maxwell, in London. (AP)
An undated photo shows British newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell, father of Ghislaine Maxwell, in London. (AP)

Ghislaine Maxwell comes from a family dominated by her father, Robert, whose mysterious drowning at sea left behind conspiracy theories, financial scandal and a fallen empire.

Her conviction in the United States on Wednesday for procuring young girls for the disgraced late financier Jeffrey Epstein has put the family back in the news.

The father

Robert Maxwell’s life read like a novel, having variously been suspected of working for the British, Israeli and Soviet secret services.

The Czechoslovakia-born businessman was born to Jewish parents who would be killed by the Nazis, and came to Britain penniless at the age of 16.

He changed his name from Jan Ludvik Hyman Binyamin Hoch and fought for the British Army during World War II, going on to set up a publishing business after the end of hostilities.

From there, he built up one of the biggest media and publishing groups in the world.

At its peak in the 1980s, he employed 16,000 people in a raft of companies including Britain’s Mirror Group Newspapers, US publishers Macmillan and the Berlitz language schools.

He was chairman of the Oxford United football club and a member of parliament from 1964 to 1974, representing the left-wing Labour party.

In business, he was an authoritarian — and often controversial — figure, who met many world leaders of the time, including Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev.

In 1995, his youngest son, Kevin, said his father was capable of great generosity and charm, but also demanded “absolute loyalty,” and reacted badly to criticism.

He was capable of “verbal brutality” and was sometimes a bully. He would work up to 17 hours a day, seven days a week, and was “motivated by power.”

Ghislaine Maxwell, founder of the TerraMar Project, attends a press conference on the Issue of Oceans in Sustainable Development Goals, at United Nations headquarters, on June 25, 2013. (United Nations Photo/Rick Bajornas via AP, File)

“He did not consider himself above the law… but would stretch it as far as it would go,” Kevin Maxwell said at his trial for defrauding the Mirror Group’s pension scheme.

Maxwell, dubbed “Cap’n Bob” and the “Bouncing Czech” in the British satirical magazine Private Eye, died when he fell from his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, off the Canary Islands in November 1991.

His death sparked conspiracy theories, but his daughter was adamant: “One thing I am sure about is that he did not commit suicide. I think he was murdered,” she told Hello! in 1997.

After his death, more than £400 million ($500 million) was found to be missing from his employees’ pension fund and was found to have been used to bail out loss-making companies in his empire.

The revelations shocked the family, as his reputation changed from business guru to crooked tycoon.

Elizabeth Maxwell on her way to the airport to transfer the remains of her late husband Robert Maxwell to Israel on November 7, 1991, in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. (Dominique Mollard via AP)

The mother

Elisabeth Maxwell, a French Protestant from Lyon, met her husband just after World War II and spent 46 years of her life with him.

The couple had nine children together and even after his death she defended his memory and reputation, despite the scandal leaving her distraught and in dire financial straits.

She defended him in an interview with The Times newspaper in 1991, suggesting he made enemies because his generosity matched his enormous bulk.

“He had great moral principles. He wanted to make the world a better place,” she said, but had no inkling of the massive fraud he perpetrated at the time.

Elisabeth — known as Betty — was a historical researcher of some repute, and looked into Maxwell’s own background growing up in Czechoslovakia, and the fate of his family.

She gave lectures on the Holocaust and promoted good relations between Christians and Jews.

Robert Maxwell, who was buried on the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem’s Old City, referred to his wife as “the keeper of my Jewish soul.”

She died in France in 2013 at the age of 92.

Christine Maxwell (left), Isabel Maxwell (center), and Kevin Maxwell, siblings of Ghislaine Maxwell, leave the courthouse after a verdict in New York, December 29, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The brothers

Two of Maxwell’s sons, Ian and Kevin, worked closely with him and were the second line in their father’s empire. They were the central focus of investigations into Maxwell’s misdealings following his death.

The brothers faced lengthy criminal proceedings, but were acquitted of the fraudulent misuse of pension fund assets in January 1996 after a mammoth 130-day trial.

Kevin Maxwell, declared bankrupt by a London court for a record £406 million ($548 million), sold his house in upmarket Chelsea, west London, and moved to a cottage near Oxford, southern England.

His wife, Pandora, told the fraud trial her husband’s relationship with his father had been strained in the months before his death, and he wanted to leave the family business.

Kevin and Ian, as well as their sisters Isabel and Christina, have stood by Ghislaine and attended her court hearings.

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