Legal Battle Brewing Over Maxwell Insurance Policy
EDITH M. LEDERER
Feb. 22, 1992
LONDON (AP) _ A legal battle was brewing today over a $35 million insurance policy on Robert Maxwell's life following a report which concluded the late British media magnate probably committed suicide.
The policy against Maxwell's accidental death excludes claims if he took his own life.
The legal tussle would pit Continental Insurance Co., one of the United States' biggest insurance companies, and a group of Lloyd's of London syndicates against administrators and liquidators of Maxwell's business empire who are the beneficiaries of the policy.
Maxwell disappeared from his private yacht off the Canary Islands on Nov. 5, and his body was found floating in the Atlantic hours later.
He left an international business empire with more than $4 billion in debts and allegations of financial improprieties. The empire now is in the hands of court-appointed administrators.
A Spanish autopsy report concluded he died on deck from a worsening of a heart condition or an accidental fall into the sea followed by drowning - or a combination of both. A second autopsy was conducted on behalf of the insurers shortly before the Jewish publisher was buried in Jerusalem on Nov. 10.
A 16-page report by Rich Wheeler and Co., the loss adjuster in charge of investigating Maxwell's November death for the insurers, said it was impossible to say how the 68-year-old publisher died but concluded that suicide is ''more compelling than any other cause,'' according to The Times of London.
Roger Rich, the company's senior partner, was quoted in today's Daily Telegraph as saying his recommendation to the insurers was not to pay the claim on the evidence currently available.
''If Maxwell's companies provide evidence, we will consider it,'' he was quoted as saying.
The Financial Times reported today that insurance companies which have underwritten just over half the risk are due to meet Wednesday to decide how to respond to the report. Lloyd's and the unnamed companies were then expected to approach Maxwell's brokers, the paper said.
If the claim is disputed, it could go to arbitration. If that fails, the case could end up in court.
John Fisher, claims underwriter for the leading Lloyd's insurance syndicate, P.N. Slade and Others, was quoted in today's Daily Telegraph as saying: ''The report is fairly inconclusive and the claim therefore has not been moved on by it.''
He stressed that the onus was on the Maxwell claimants to prove beyond reasonable doubt that suicide was not involved.
Lloyd's spokeswoman Jane Vidler was quoted in today's New York Times as saying that without such evidence, ''there will be no payout.''
''The ball is now in the family's court to prove that he died of accidental causes,'' she was quoted as saying.
The Times of London reported today that lawyers acting for Maxwell Communication Corporation, Mirror Group Newspapers and one of Maxwell's private companies - the companies that stand to gain from a claim - believe there is enough doubt about how Maxwell died to pursue a claim on grounds his death was accidental.
An unidentified spokesman for Price Waterhouse, the liquidators of Maxwell Communication Corp., was quoted by the paper as saying: ''We were awaiting this report and now we know that particular verdict, it is up to us to challenge it.''
Charles Wilson, editor-in-chief of Mirror Group Newspapers, was quoted in today's Financial Times as saying: ''We retain and are pursuing our interest in the insurance policy on Robert Maxwell's life.''
A Maxwell family lawyer, Julio Hernandez Claverie, disputed the report's finding.
''The arguments in this report seem very flimsy to me. It gives no evidence of suicide whatsoever. It is pure speculation,'' the Evening Standard on Friday quoted him as saying.
The principal support for the suicide theory in the Rich Wheeler report is the fact that Maxwell locked his stateroom door before going out on deck. ''If Robert Maxwell died as a result of natural causes, homicide or as the result of an accident, why did he lock the stateroom door?,'' The Times of London quoted the report as saying.
The Guardian newspaper today quoted Roger Rich as revealing a second $875,000 life insurance policy naming Maxwell's widow, Elisabeth, as beneficiary. The paper said its terms are not known.