Advertisement
Share

Suicide Ruled Out in Maxwell’s Death : Scandal: A Spanish pathologist says a forthcoming report will cite natural causes.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Spanish pathologist conducting Robert Maxwell’s post mortem said Wednesday that it is unlikely he committed suicide and that he may have suffered a heart attack and fallen from his yacht, according to a report.

In addition, British authorities Wednesday proposed reforms of pension fund regulations to prevent future looting of employee funds by cash-strapped corporate leaders in the Maxwell mold.

Maxwell, the late British media tycoon found floating dead in the Atlantic Ocean after tumbling from his yacht near the Canary Islands last month, illegally diverted as much as $700 million from his U.K. employees’ retirement funds to prop up his crumbling international business empire.

Advertisement

Coming in the chilly weeks before Christmas, the Maxwell pension fund scandal has transformed the flamboyant financier--once a dashingly popular public figure here--into this year’s Scrooge. Newspaper editorials and politicians urged reform of the loosely regulated pension system, described by one crusading journalist as a “license to cheat.”

Revelations of massive debts in Maxwell’s international publishing empire and news organizations’ accusations that he stole and lied to prop it up have led to speculation in London that he may have killed himself.

But Britain’s Independent Television News quoted pathologist Carlos Lopez de Lamela as saying a report on the autopsy to be released this week would say Maxwell almost certainly died of natural causes.

Lopez de Lamela, asked in the interview about suicide, said he doubted that was the case, ITN said. It quoted him as saying: “There are no facts to suggest that possibility (suicide). You could raise the hypothesis of suicide, but in my opinion in this case, it’s very improbable.”

In other Maxwell-related developments Wednesday:

* Kevin Maxwell, the late mogul’s 32-year-old son and the publisher of the New York Daily News, said the newspaper, which entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings last week, has enough cash to survive “into the new year.”

* The News disclosed that it owes advertisers $4.3 million in rebates because it failed to reach promised circulation targets. News management and union representatives held their first meeting to devise a rescue plan, and labor adviser Theodore Kheel said he was “confident” of success.

* Maxwell’s flagship holding in Israel, the Maariv newspaper, was put up for sale by London’s High Court.

* Maxwell’s Daily Mirror, meanwhile, reported that the publisher bugged his own son’s office. It said detectives found wires running from Maxwell’s office to son Kevin’s room next door on the ninth floor of Maxwell House, next to the Mirror in central London. Kevin Maxwell was quoted as saying he was unaware of any bugging.

Kevin Maxwell, interviewed by one of his father’s newspapers, reportedly said he feels “desperately sorry” for the employees robbed of their pensions. The scion is suspected of playing a role in the pillaging.

Even the conservative Financial Times newspaper, which is tracking the pension scandal with several stories each day, said in an editorial Wednesday that the Maxwell debacle proves a need for additional regulation of the British pension system.

In Britain, unlike the United States and most other industrial countries, there is no separate body of law governing pension funds. Instead, pension fund managers have relied on a system of “self-regulation” through various non-governmental associations, such as the Investment Management Regulatory Organization.

Still, despite tighter regulation in the United States, Daily News spokesman John Campi said Robert Maxwell had failed to set up a new pension plan for about 300 News managers, as he promised when he took over the paper in March. Pension plan assets accrued under the previous management are intact, Campi stressed.

In addition, about $200,000 that News employees contributed to a 401(k) retirement plan have been frozen by the paper’s Chapter 11 filing.

A member of Parliament on Wednesday urged that boards of pension trusts--very powerful institutions in Britain that control an estimated 40% to 60% of publicly held stock--be made up of independent trustees who cannot use the trusts as personal caches.

According to investigators, Maxwell was able to dip into his employees’ pension funds because he and his two sons, Kevin and Ian, sat on the board of trustees of all the principal funds--with assets estimated at $1.3 billion--and were able to control their investments.

House of Commons member Frank Field called for other reforms of the system, including employee access to information about investments by their pension funds and annual options to transfer their stakes to another fund.

“The current system will not survive this scandal,” Field said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Advertisement