Maxwell faced war crime claim at time of death


British media tycoon Robert Maxwell was being investigated at the time of his death for allegedly committing a war crime as a British soldier during World War II.

Maxwell, who mysteriously drowned 15 years ago, was under investigation for allegedly killing an unarmed German civilian during World War II, it emerged today.

Police had begun questioning members of the former army captain's platoon and were preparing a possible case against Maxwell only weeks before his death, according to London Metropolitan Police information released to the Independentnewspaper under the Freedom of Information Act.

Several members of Mr. Maxwell's military platoon were traced, but none could provide information to assist in determining the investigation
Metropolitan Police

Maxwell's media empire was on the brink of collapse when he died in 1991, and he was later found to have misappropriated hundreds of millions of dollars from its pensions funds.

The new information about Maxwell's personal problems at the time of his death are likely to increase speculation that he committed suicide. No official cause was ever established.

Britain's War Crimes Act 1991 was enacted just six months before Spanish fishermen found Maxwell's naked body floating in the Atlantic about 15 miles from his yacht.

In the newly released police information, an unidentified person filed a complaint against Maxwell under the war crimes law after an authorised biography of the Jewish businessman in 1988 alleged that Maxwell had fatally shot an unarmed civilian in Germany in April 1945.

The late Robert Maxwell. Pic: PA
The late Robert Maxwell. Pic: PA

The book quotes Maxwell as saying that as a British army captain he had tried to capture a German town by threatening its population with a mortar bombardment.

In the book, Maxwell explains how he asked local Germans to get the mayor and ordered him back to the town to tell German soldiers there to surrender. The mayor returned and said the soldiers had agreed.

"But as soon as we marched off a German tank opened fire on us," Maxwell wrote in a letter to his wife. "Luckily, he missed, so I shot the mayor and withdrew."

Maxwell also confirmed that account in an 1988 interview with a British journalist.

"Several members of Mr. Maxwell's military platoon were traced, but none could provide information to assist in determining the investigation," police said.

The investigating officers found the likely location of the alleged shooting, police said, "but were unable to confirm evidentially whether an event as described had occurred, or whether a person had been fatally wounded in the manner described".

After his death, the Crown Prosecution Service closed the case in March 1992.

Maxwell received a Military Cross for his service as a platoon leader of British soldiers that fought into the heart of Nazi Germany.

He had joined the British army after fleeing Nazi persecution of Jews in his native Czechoslovakia in 1939. In March 1945, he learned that his mother and sister had been executed as "hostages" by Nazis in occupied Czechoslovakia.