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Natural Causes Blamed in Maxwell Death : Autopsy: Initial results show the billionaire publisher died before falling from his yacht. Foul play is ruled out.

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Initial autopsy results show that billionaire publisher Robert Maxwell died of natural causes before falling from his yacht into the Atlantic, a judge said Wednesday.

Luis Gutierrez Sanjuan, the judge investigating the death, did not say exactly what caused the death, but other officials ruled out foul play.

The Canary Islands chief prosecutor, Juan Guerra Manrique, told Spanish Television that it might have been “something like a heart attack.”

Maxwell, 68, disappeared from his $21-million yacht Tuesday. His body was recovered hours later off Spain’s Canary Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean west of Morocco.

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“The provisional judgment of the pathologist is of natural death before falling into the water. It wasn’t death by drowning,” the judge said.

He said a scrape mark on Maxwell’s forehead could have been caused by his fall into the sea or during recovery of his nude body.

Guerra said: “Preliminary indications are that there was no criminal activity involved in this. There seemed to be no signs of violence.”

Carlos Lopez de Lamela, the chief pathologist, said the preliminary phase of the autopsy, involving opening the body, was complete. The final autopsy result will be known in about a week, he said.

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The death of the flamboyant publisher raised questions about the future of his holdings. His global publishing empire is burdened with debt, and Maxwell had been selling assets to raise money to meet a $750-million payment due in October, 1992. Trading of stock in Maxwell’s two publicly held media companies was suspended in London for a second day Wednesday to prevent speculation.

In addition to the New York Daily News, Maxwell owns several British tabloids and the European, an English-language weekly he founded in May, 1990.

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

At the time of his death, the heavy-set, brash Maxwell had legal problems. He was suing American journalist Seymour Hersh for alleging in a new book that he had links to Israel’s Mossad spy agency.

Hersh’s publisher, Matthew Evans, said Wednesday that Hersh plans to release a “very big story” about Maxwell and the Mossad. Evans is chairman of Faber and Faber, which published “The Samson Option,” the book in which Hersh made his allegations about Maxwell and the Israeli agency.

Meanwhile, in Sydney, Australia, former Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe told Reuters news agency that Maxwell laundered billions of dollars from secret arms sales to Iran approved by Israel and the United States. Israel immediately denied the charge.

The arms sales, from East Bloc countries between 1984 and 1987, were approved by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and George Bush, who was then vice president, Ben-Menashe said in an interview.

Shamir’s spokesman Ehu Gol denied the charge, telling reporters in Jerusalem: “It’s absolute nonsense.”

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Maxwell’s widow, Elizabeth, who flew to the Canary Islands with her son Phillip on Tuesday night, spent 90 minutes with Judge Gutierrez on Wednesday, giving him information on her husband’s activities and the kind of medication he used, British Vice Consul Campbell Livingstone said.

Maxwell is to be buried in Jerusalem, most likely on Sunday, but the timing depends on when the body is released by Spanish authorities, said Dov Judkowski, editor of the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv. Maxwell’s empire has a major share in the paper.


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