How A Death At Sea Exposed A Major Fraud

Posted on Thursday, December 29, 2022 by Lydia SinclairNo comments

On 5th November 1991, the controversial media magnate Robert Maxwell was found dead in the Atlantic Ocean in mysterious circumstances.

This death triggered a series of events and investigations by forensic accountants that uncovered one of the greatest frauds in British history, where £426m were stolen from the pensions of employees at the Mirror Group over eight years, improving the demand for forensic accountancy jobs in the country for decades afterwards.

Robert Maxwell, born in Czechoslovakia but later becoming a naturalised British citizen built up an extensive publishing empire, as well as a long list of enemies.

So often would he be criticised both officially and by other publications that Maxwellisation was added into UK law, where potential subjects of official criticism needed to be given details in advance so they could respond accordingly.

He bought the Mirror Group (Now Reach plc) in 1984, and famously attempted to convince Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to sell the state-owned rights to the video game Tetris to him.

After a string of expensive acquisitions that quickly became expensive failures, Mr Maxwell had accrued a large amount of debt and attempted to trick forensic accountants and financial auditors by moving money from one part of his empire to another.

Finally, he would dip into the pension funds for the Mirror Group to help pay off debts and fund takeover bids for companies such as Berlitz, Macmillan publishers and the New York Daily News, as well as a seemingly endless string of libel cases to stop too many questions being asked.

Once he was found off of his luxury yacht on that fateful day, Mr Maxwell could not do anything to stop his massive fraud from being exposed.

The Maxwell empire went bankrupt in 1992 and Mr Maxwell’s two sons, Kevin and Ian went on trial for conspiracy to defraud, under the logic that they must have known it was happening, but they would later be acquitted in 1996 in a decision that is still controversial to this day.

After a government bailout and the assistance of investment banks, half of the pension funds were restored.

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