Friday, June 29, 2007

ONASSIS







The Battle to Control the Legacy of Aristotle Onassis






Aghia Foteini's dominance of Nea Smyrna's skyline is not a mere matter of geography. Twin belfries accentuate the grandeur of the church built by the Athens suburb's refugee residents in remembrance of the main Orthodox temple in the famed Asia Minor city of Smyrna-the home they fled in terror when Kemal Ataturk's troops set the city aflame in 1922. Among those forced to abandon his natal home was the 22-year-old Aristotle Onassis, the late shipping tycoon who became known around the world as "the golden Greek."
To the left of the church, scaffolding obscures an arch-wide enough for a car-above which rises an even taller bell tower, a replica of the one in Smyrna. It is being built with funds from the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation. For a church with two steeples, the third may seem excessive. But excess is a part of the Onassis legend. This may be why the Aghia Foteini bell tower, trivial beside the Foundation's other deeds, is perfectly evocative of the tycoon's legacy.
"We were asked whether we wanted to have a street in Athens named after him," Stelio A. Papadimitriou recalls. "I said 'No. We do not need that'. You give that to small benefactors, not to us." Made by anyone else, such a statement would smack of arrogance. But for Papadimitriou, the president of the Onassis Foundation, it is no more than a statement of fact.
The Confidants
Created under the terms of Onassis's will, the Foundation is not merely a patrimony; it is a legacy meant to reflect Onassis's beliefs and continue his life's work. Indeed, Papadimitriou bristles at the suggestion that the Foundation does no more than dole out donations. "Our foundation is unique," he insists in the course of a two-and-a-half hour interview with Odyssey. "All other foundations are controlled by business; ours controls its own business."
This unusual arrangement is pure Onassis. Instead of endowing the Foundation with a fixed sum, he bequeathed it half his business and thus the means of producing income. In the 23 years since Onassis died, Papadimitriou says, the Foundation has quadrupled the value of its estate. "It is an entirely new fleet. The average age of our ships is four or five years; at the time Onassis died the average age was 15. Just one of our ships is valued at almost as much as the entire fleet Onassis left us," he adds.
The Foundation was well-positioned to safeguard the Onassis legacy, since its members were all trusted colleagues. Its top officers include the same four men Onassis chose to manage his daughter's estate and whom Christina, in turn, selected to manage daughter Athina's trust. They are:
Papadimitriou, 67, whose intimate relationship with Onassis was underscored by the tycoon's deathbed request that he protect Christina "as his sister;" 74-year-old Pavlos Ioannidis-another trusted Onassis aide who served for almost four decades as his chief pilot and general manager of Olympic Airways-who is one of the Foundation's two vice presidents; Apostolos Zabelas, 71, an economist and financial analyst in Onassis's employ for over 30 years, who is the Foundation's vice president and treasurer; and Theodore Gabrielides, 63, who served as legal counsel to the Onassis group of companies. Papadimitriou, Ioannidis, and Zabelas all received $2 million in Christina's will and are life members of the Foundation's board; Gabrielides received nothing and serves as an elected member.
For all intents and purposes, these four control both the Foundation and Athina's trust, an arrangement that her father, Thierry Roussel, abhors. Athina's inheritance-whose value was estimated at $569.1 million in a court filing last March-reverts to her control when she turns 18 (on January 29, 2003). At the moment, Roussel receives roughly $12 million annually; in the 10 years since Christina's 1988 death, he has pocketed over $100 million from the Onassis estate.
But with Onassis's four associates dominating the five-man trust, Roussel feels locked out, and through a series of court actions in Switzerland he has sought to wrest away control of the inheritance. He has publicly accused his fellow trustees of embezzlement and corruption; last fall, he said they hired former Israeli secret agents to kidnap Athina. They replied that they had simply undertaken a five-month surveillance of Athina's security to fulfill the conditions of a British insurance policy that would pay the ransom should she be kidnapped.
It is unlikely that Roussel will relent, despite a Swiss judicial review last April that rejected Roussel's efforts to oust his fellow trustees; instead, the review credited the growth of the inheritance to the trustees' "diligent management." The Greek trustees, meanwhile, filed slander charges against Roussel's attorney in Athens. It is these skirmishes that have dominated the global media.
The Patrimony
But in the midst of the frenzy over Athina's trust, the question of who might eventually control the Onassis Foundation has received less scrutiny. At first glance, Onassis's will seems to stipulate that his heirs should be in control; but Papadimitriou and his troops insist otherwise.
Currently, Papadimitriou, who became president in 1992, is the iron man of the Foundation, as he is of Athina's trust. He answers to the other 14 directors, among whom are such luminaries as Archbishop Anastasios of Albania and former New York University President John Brademas; more controversially, one son each of Papadimitriou, Ioannides, Zabelas, and Gabrielides have also joined the board over the years-an act of perceived nepotism for which they have often been attacked.
Described as one of the sharpest minds in maritime law, Papadimitriou fits the physical stereotype of a Balkan diplomat, an image belied by the sophistication of his conversation. Having spent a lifetime at Onassis's side-he and the tycoon's late son, Alexander, all shared the same office-Papadimitriou, too, seems as if he would be as comfortable at a quayside cafe as at a meeting of heads of state. And he appears to have made it his mission to run the Foundation, housed in an opulent neoclassical mansion across from Hadrian's Arch, with the same panache that Onassis lived his life.
"Onassis wanted us to continue his business," Papadimitriou says of his deathbed conversations with the shipping tycoon. "I had asked him what he would like us to do so he could be remembered. And he said: 'I am the business. If you carry on the business, people will remember me. If you do not carry on the business, the Foundation will die because no money will go into it. So if you wish to remember me, continue my business.' This is reflected in his will." Drafted by Papadimitriou-"I drew it up about 50 times because Onassis was not an easy fellow for whom to draft a will"-it is a model of simplicity given the complexity and enormity of Onassis's estate.
Valued at half a billion dollars at the time of his death in 1975, the estate included more than 50 ships, extensive real estate holdings-including the Ionian islands of Skorpios and Sparti, office buildings in New York-bonds, securities, and shares in companies throughout the world, including an airline. Everything was divided straight down the middle: Half went to the Foundation, which inherited the share that would have gone to Onassis's son, Alexander (who had died two years earlier in a plane crash at age 24), and the other half to Christina.
"I asked 'Why the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation' and not simply the 'Onassis Foundation,'?" Papadimitriou recalls. "And Onassis said, 'I had two children. Christina will take half and Alexander would have taken half. But since he is dead, the Foundation will take the place of my son.'"
Onassis left only broad guidelines as to how the Foundation should disperse its monies, but he was strict about how it should earn them. "While the will states the board can buy ships with the approval of a simple majority, a two-thirds majority is needed to sell a ship. And if we sell a ship, we have to reserve the money to buy another ship when the opportunity arises," Papadimitriou says. "Onassis was a shipowner. He wanted his name and his business to be continued."
Despite the tremendous leeway Onassis gave the Foundation in deciding what types of programs to underwrite, he did make one stipulation: The projects must benefit the public rather than the individual. "Onassis did not believe in charity. He believed in public benefit," Papadimitriou says. "The Foundation does not give money to Mr. So-and-So to go have an operation. It builds a hospital so everyone can have an operation."
His example is an allusion to the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center, a Pei-like pyramid on Syngrou Avenue, four kilometers from the center of Athens. The state-of-the-art, 118-bed hospital has four operating theaters and cost over $75 million to build. Its reputation rivals the world's best heart-surgery centers; doctors there have performed thousands of open-heart procedures and have treated over 130,000 outpatients since the Foundation presented it to the Greek state in 1992.
The Onassis Foundation also disburses $2 million in scholarships each year, primarily to Greek students doing graduate work abroad. There are about 1,000 scholarship program "alumni" and an equal number currently studying around the world with Foundation grants. "We don't give scholarships to the poor, we give scholarships to the worthy," declares Papadimitriou. "You get a bigger scholarship if you are poor but you don't get the scholarship because you are poor."
This, too, reflects Onassis's beliefs, Papadimitriou says. "We were walking on Skorpios one night-Onassis never slept before three in the morning-when he asked me this: 'You have three children. By the time you die, you will have some money. Assume you have one son who is very strong and one who is weak. How will you divide your estate?' I said I would give most of the money to the weak one and less to the strong one because he wouldn't need it.
"And Onassis said to me, 'You are a fool. Don't you ever do that. You give all your money to the strong one with an obligation to support the weak one. Because the weak one will do nothing with the money, he will spend it all and be a burden on the strong one. The strong one is going to make more money and he can take care of the weak one. Give all your money to the strong.' That was Onassis." As a coda, Papadimitriou adds: "It would have been a horror to him if the Foundation simply gave to the poor. We don't forget the poor. We take care of the poor, but in a different way."
The Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center and the scholarship program are hardly the Foundation's only projects. Among hundreds of other grants, it is providing millions for the construction and operation of an Onassis Library for Hellenic and Roman Art at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art; has given generously to the American Hospital in Paris and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York; and supports the Patmos Monastery, the Anglo-Hellenic League, the World Wide Fund for Nature, and Piraeus's Seamen's Home.
Its signature awards are the biennial Onassis International Prizes, worth a quarter million dollars each, which are bestowed on individuals and organizations that have furthered international understanding, and contributed to culture and the environment. Recipients have included CNN Founder Ted Turner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Hermitage Museum, Amnesty International, Elizabeth Taylor and Association AIDES, and the International Maritime Organization.
Last year the Foundation also held its first international cultural competition-a playwriting contest that attracted 1,460 entries from 76 countries. Why the phenomenal response? With a first prize of $250,000, a second prize of $200,000 and a third prize of a mere $150,000-easily the highest purses ever offered for original theatrical works-legitimate writers and gold digging hacks the world over scrambled for a shot at the big time. "Harvest," a play by Manjula Padmanabhan of India, took top honors. Asked if the size of the prizes reflects Onassis's flair for the grandiose, Papadimitriou replies simply: "Bravo!"
The response, plus the high quality of the submissions-Papadimitriou says there were 45 works of great merit-have encouraged the Foundation to expand the competition to more disciplines. "Next time it will be theater plus ballet and music...then philosophy...then the visual arts," he says. "I hope this will be a good evocation of the cultural games of the ancient world." The program seems to jibe with Onassis's belief in encouraging creativity and in fostering the new-something Papadimitriou says benefits society more than simply rewarding someone for what he has already done. The program also dovetails with the Foundation's plan to build a performing arts center in Athens; a $6.5-million plot of land on Syngrou Avenue has already been purchased for the center.
Papadimitriou takes great pride in finally introducing the element of competition into the Foundation's prizes, something Onassis certainly would have applauded. But he says he also derives great satisfaction from having created a Foundation that, in its broad strokes and in its details, is true to Onassis's vision.
"In his will, Onassis outlines the Foundation in general terms. The specifics and its administration were left entirely up to me. He wanted it and he approved it, but he recognized that I knew administration better than him. It is my pride that the Foundation has passed the acid test, that 22 years after Onassis's death, the Foundation works and performs as it does," he says.
The Roussel Factor
The Foundation was not the only "heir" Onassis placed in Papadimitriou's care. In his will, the tycoon also put his daughter's share of the estate under the Foundation's management, asking him to look after Christina "as his sister."
The obligation has weighed heavily on Papadimitriou, for whom Onassis was both mentor and father. ("I am a child of Onassis," he says. "My father died when I was 13. Onassis was a father to me.") It has also put him at the center of a dispute that, to his annoyance, detracts from the Foundation's work.
Papadimitriou warned Onassis that Christina would never agree to her father's terms and that the will would place Papadimitriou at odds with her. Contrary to his fears, his fight was never with Christina, who, like her father, came to regard Papadimitriou as a confidant.
"After Onassis died, we divided everything up into two lots, A and B. In the presence of a notary public Christina chose B," he says. "The moment she did, she turned to us and said, 'Okay, now I am giving my assets back to you to manage. Not because my father says I have to, but because of me. I'm the boss.' So we agreed to manage her fleet along with her other assets." (Christina subsequently asked them to ease her out of shipping. "At the time, there was a crisis in shipping and she was not a person that had a long-term view," Papadimitriou says.)
But since Christina's death in Buenos Aires in 1988, Papadimitriou has been famously at odds with Thierry Roussel. The nasty battle, fought in the courtrooms of Greece and Switzerland, has all the elements of a Sidney Sheldon bestseller.
In her will, also drawn up by Papadimitriou, Christina left the bulk of her estate to Athina. The will is structured to shield Athina's fortune from Roussel, about whom Christina had increasingly expressed doubts. The row between the two sides began immediately after Christina's death when Roussel, unaware she had had Papadimitriou draw up a new will, publicly claimed he was now in charge of the Onassis fortune.
Relations between Roussel and the Greek trustees have deteriorated as the Frenchman has stepped up his efforts to win control of Athina's patrimony. In 1996, he took the dispute public, openly accusing the trustees of mismanagement and embezzlement. Papadimitriou and the others retaliated in kind, publicly revealing the extra amounts paid out to Roussel over the years for commitments he has failed to meet, such as Greek-language lessons for Athina (for which Roussel reportedly has been given $2 million). Reporters, meanwhile, have dug up old reports of Roussel's checkered economic past and of massive debts from failed ventures such as a strawberry farm in Portugal.
"It all started with Roussel," says Papadimitriou, who insists the Foundation loathes publicity but must defend itself. "He has two weaknesses: One, he likes the press and, second, he is very fond of litigation. From day one, he has been in litigation against us." An Athens court has cleared the Greek trustees of mismanagement allegations, while another petition to a Swiss court to have the Greek trustees removed has been tainted by the trustees' allegations of judicial conspiracy. Roussel did not respond to Odyssey's request for an interview.
Matters of Succession
The Foundation and Athina's trust are separate patrimonies, but the dispute with Roussel has cast a pall over the Foundation for the past two years, if only because of the confusion that arises from the involvement of the same people on both boards. Papadimitriou says that even though Roussel has tried to undermine the Foundation by claiming it is on the verge of bankruptcy, he has failed "because people in the world of finance are more serious than people who aren't...and they know our assets." Papadimitriou hints that Roussel's campaign might have a different purpose.
"If Athina's money exists today it is because of us," he says of the Greek trustees. "Roussel's real dispute is against his daughter...to get more money. All his attempts were either claims against his daughter...or to compel us to give up and say: 'What is this business distracting us from our job? Take it!' and leave, as all the relatives have done."
One thing Papadimitriou is not is a quitter. Nor is the row with Roussel solely about money; for Papadimitriou it also seems to be a battle for the heart and mind of the young girl who, under the Foundation's statutes, could become its president when she turns 21.
Ironically, it was not Onassis who made the Foundation bearing his son's name a family affair.
"He did not want Christina as president...he would have turned in his grave," Papadimitriou says. "We made Christina president. Onassis didn't wish any member of his family to be president or vice president or whatever. Nowhere in his will does he say that Christina or any descendant will become president. He chose the strongest from among his associates. We made her president out of respect for him, but I don't believe he would have appreciated it."
Today Papadimitriou expresses regret at Christina's appointment, even though the Foundation's board did not grant her any powers.
"Under our statutes, the president has only such power as the board gives him. Ioannis Georgakis (Papadimitriou's predecessor) had the prizes and the scholarships-nothing else. Christina, when she was president, had zero. It was an honorary post, but even that can become a burden on the Foundation," he says.
The Foundation's continued growth has created new demands on its overseers.
"The president has gradually acquired a role that far exceeds the requirements of a common human being," Papadimitriou asserts, before qualifying his solipsism. "I'm not saying I'm uncommon, but simply that you have to be able to speak with heads of state and have the culture necessary to speak with professors, authors, and artists...and also know how to make money. Otherwise, you have to compromise and have a figurehead president with a real one behind, as was the case with Christina. Is this to the Foundation's benefit? I don't think so."
As with Christina, Athina would not become president by right. But she does have, in legal terms, the "expectation" that she may chair the foundation's board-provided its members believe she has the education and ability to fulfill the president's basic duties. "The statutes and bylaws make clear that more is needed than the desire to serve as president," says Papadimitriou. "Really, all of us would have liked Athina to become the Foundation's president subject to her Hellenism being maintained, subject to her education being tip-top, and her culture also being good."
His description of the post's basic qualifications seems a tall order, even for someone groomed for the job. And clearly Athina is not. This is a major source of friction between Papadimitriou, who laments the lack of attention to her cultural upbringing and education, and Roussel, who says he does not wish his daughter to be a "wise monkey."
Bemoaning Athina's Lack of Greekness
Since Christina's death, Athina has been raised by Roussel and his Swedish wife, Marianne Landhage, a former model. Gaby, as she is nicknamed, and Roussel were married in 1990; they have three children, one of whom were born while Roussel was still married to Christina.
As Roussel's war with the Foundation has heated up, he has intensified his campaign through the media to showcase Athina as enjoying a happy, "normal" upbringing. Photo spreads in Paris-Match and Hello and interviews aired on Greek television show a beaming Athina either on her horse, Arco, or playing with her parents and siblings.
Neither Papadimitriou nor anyone else has questioned Athina's happiness. What seems to have irked them is the lack of any preparation for assuming responsibility for the billions to come under her control in just five years.
Athina's Greek background seems to have been deliberately neglected; she is said to speak five languages, but Greek is not among them. In her 13 years, Athina has spent a grand total of 17 days in Greece, mostly in isolation on Skorpios.
Roussel has enlisted his daughter in getting across the message to the media that this is because Athina wishes it so. In recent interviews with Italy's Oggi and France's Le Figaro, she has been quoted as saying that she does not want to bear the name Onassis and that she hates Greece because the media's attention makes it like a prison for her. "I want to forget the name Onassis," she told Oggi. Of her grandfather, she said simply: "He was rich. He was loved. I don't know much of him." Roussel has demanded that the Foundation's trustees not use the name Onassis when addressing his daughter.
But Papadimitriou finds such statements preposterous. "Greece is not a small thing that Athina can reject," he says, visibly agitated by both statements. "We would have liked for the only granddaughter of Onassis to be worthy of the name. I'm not saying she should hate the French or the Roussel family. But she should show due respect for her grandfather, for her mother, and their country."
Papadimitriou is careful not to blame Athina for this. "Much to my distress, I see this is not happening. I do not hold the girl responsible. I hold the father and the stepmother responsible. Greece will not be lost if Athina is not Greek or doesn't feel Greek. Because 'Greek' is not a matter of nationality or blood; 'Greek' is a matter of mentality. And the kind of mentality Athina is acquiring is not Greek."
And what is his concept of being Greek? "It is the way I brought up my children and the way I was brought up. First of all, to be respectful of my ancestors," says Papadimitriou. "And second, to cherish education and to try to acquire it."
He is convinced that Athina is not encouraged to learn. By way of example, he refers to an interview on Greek TV in which she responds to polite, yet persistent questioning about her favorite subject by saying she doesn't like school or lessons but only likes horses. At first glance, Papadimitriou's argument may seem flimsy-many kids often say they hate school. But displaying some sensitivity to child psychology, he says such assertions are usually made to friends or other intimates and are not meant to be taken seriously. The TV interview was a formal situation in which most children would have been very concerned about making a good impression.
"She could have said 'I like music' or 'I like reading a book' or 'I like a movie'," Papadimitriou insists. "And when Roussel says 'I'm happy that my daughter is not becoming a wise monkey'-would you say that to your daughter? He's saying he doesn't have respect for education." Yet in spite of all this, Papadimitriou does not seem to have given up hope on the upbringing of Athina, whom he has met three or four times. He appears smug when he says that he may try to save her education at a later stage, but won't reveal how.
Only the Foundation Will Remain
Regardless of whether the trustees are successful in bringing Athina back into the Onassis fold, the Foundation will ensure that the Greek tycoon's legacy survives.
"All the Foundation's staff, all the people who work here, have a sense of mission. And that sense of mission does not concern Onassis. He wouldn't have liked us to serve him or to just propagate his name; he was a decent man. The mission is to do good work. We are pleased to be able to make money and distribute it to public-benefit projects," he says.
The Foundation's mission may not be to serve Onassis as such, but his legacy is being perpetuated through the centers and programs that bear his name, and through the Foundation's thriving shipping business.
Even Papadimitriou, who may still feel that seeing Athina one day at the helm of the Foundation will fulfill his duty to Onassis's vision, seems to be reconciling himself to the possibility that Christina may have been the last Onassis.
"I'm wiser now than I was 23 years ago, much wiser in this sense. Whatever will be left from Onassis will not come from his life or his granddaughter," he says. "What will remain forever is this Foundation."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Life of Aristotle Onassis


1. Introduction
2. The Escape from Smirne
3. The New World
4. The Penelope and the Socrates
5. The Liberty Fleet and the OPM Technique
6. Colombo's Egg
7. Whale Hunting
8. From the Sea to the Sky
9. The Decay


1. Introduction
The life and character of Aristotle Onassis, in many ways, exhibited strong similarities to that of the Greek mythological figure Odysseus. Although never a passionate reader, Aristotle was fascinated by the story of Odysseus -- about his eternal journey in search of chimera and adventures and his ultimate return to his native country to reign in peace on his people. This character always attracted him as he felt the sense of a similar destiny and that he, as did Odysseus, knew how to exist above all will.
Ari was brought up in an environment consumed by the rigorous principles of the Orthodox Church. But inside him, there remained only a deep religious sense of man as he grew older, a sense that respects the strength of superior events while de-emphasizing the will of a god or the lords in determining most matters. Ari was one to never escape the fight and to spends all his energies consumed in an eternal struggle.
His stellar performance as a businessman was surely linked to this component of his character, to the aggressiveness of a man who was willing to win at any price. He was born in Smirne, from where we believe Homer has originated. After Smirne was occupied by the Turks, he ended up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here he succeeded in a few years to gain his fated first million. As he went down the path of success with the logic of narcissus, sure of always going the right way and often times feeling omnipotent, he faced rivals and courts of justice, democracies and colonels. Few people in their lives have come across such a crescendo of power.
He frequented exclusive night clubs and restaurants all over the world. Whether over the phone or on a cruise ship, he fostered a profitable business with his flair and vibrant personality. The particulars of his business negotiations, of course, were carried out in offices somewhere in Europe or the United States. But it was his personality that fascinated those around him. He always seemed to tread the fine line between self-egocentrism and vulnerability. This unique combination formed the nucleus of his character and resulted in a remarkable mix of vitality and melancholy. He was a protagonist of the financial world, but fate was not to permit him to reap only happiness from life. That story by Odysseus that he truly loved, also depicted the punishment of the man who had challenged the omnipotence and authority of the lords. Similar to Prometheus who in life had reached the highest aims, Ari was ultimately akin to the son precipitated on the ground in the legend of Icarus. Onassis did indeed spend the last two years of his life fighting without enthusiasm and devoid of hope.
2. The Escape from Smirne
Aristotle's father, Socrates, moved with his brothers to Anatolia, in Smirne, from inside the country. Although not the oldest of his brothers, Socrates was the most charismatic and effectively fulfilled the role as head of the family. They had moved to Smirne originally due to pure chance when a team of engineers and typographers had invaded the village of Moutalasski to concentrate on the new Berlin-Baghdad railway and spoke of the wonderful economic opportunities in Smirne.
Socrates Onassis and his brothers became inebriated by the city's atmosphere. They recognized the existence of the economic opportunities as they witnessed the carpets, tobacco, cotton, dried-fig, wood, raisins, and other goods that passed through the port. Socrates found commerce to be an extremely prosperous sector of business and, after an apprenticeship with a Jewish merchant near Bohar Benadava, he rented a small store at the port and opened an import-export business. He experienced extremely good business and, in a year, moved to a building in the Han del Gran Visir in the business center of the city. He also rented another store in a strategic location near the railway and the port in Daragaz.
Although his business activity eventually spanned many diverse trades, Socrates was essentially a dealer of tobacco. In the meantime, all his brothers, Alexander, Homer and Vasili, were engaged in their family affairs and their business reputations were also expanding. In fact, Homer and Alexander began to take a keen interest in politics as their reputation flourished. Soon thereafter, Socrates decided to get married, considering the social position he had already achieved, and to return to the village. He chose to marry Penelope Dologu, the daughter of a village notable. Not yet 17 years of age, the bride courageously and intelligently adapted herself to her duties and gave birth to two sons, Artemide and Aristotle. At this time, the year was 1900 and racially-spurred political strife with Turkey was rapidly fomenting.
In 1909, during a time of nationalist hostility at the hands of the Turks, a personal tragedy struck Socrates' family. Penelope died of kidney failure, leaving a sad void in the family. Socrates ultimately remarried, bringing a very good stepmother to Penelope's sons. But to Aristotle, no one would ever love him as his mother Penelope did. Surrounded by women including the stepmother, the grandmother Getsemani and the three sisters (two were born from the second marriage), Ari grew up in a world where religion was an important obligation; in fact, if it weren't for the presence of his uncle Alexandro, perhaps Ari would have set off towards an ecclesiastic career. However, his uncle inculcated in him the passion of life, that taste of struggle and the sense that challenge is highly respected in a Greek world. These passions dominated the rest of Ari's life.
As World War I progressed and the nations began to divide the spoils of war, the Greek reoccupation of Smirne was encouraged. However, on August 26th 1927, the troops of Kemal Pascia entered and conquered the region without meeting much Greek resistance. Only a few days before, Socrates had brought his son Ari into the office and together they wisely burned the documents recognizing the political activity of Alexander. However, his prudence did not keep him from being arrested and thrown into a concentration camp. The family was transported to another camp in the island of Lesbos and only Ari was saved from this travesty. After deceptively lying about his age and suggesting that he was only 16 years old, Ari convinced the military figures that he was to young to go to a camp. Ari somehow found the strength and the necessary inventiveness to organize an escape and successfully liberated his father from the concentration camp.
3. The New World
Ari's grandmother Getsemani had always told him to remember that "men have to construct their destiny." After his father's liberation, Ari didn't see in his native country any bond strong enough to keep him there. With 250 dollars in his pocket and a valid permit for a journey into a country of new colonization, Ari set out for Argentina. He started so with a third-class ticket in the middle of thousands of emigrants, tight between the hold and the deck, the voyage towards life and his destiny of man.
But Ari was different that all the other desperate fugitives who had lost their country and, with it, their identities. The main distinction between them was Ari's love for victory, his clearness of objectives, and his unfettered determination. He subsequently found work as a telephone operator with the help of some Greeks and, on this occasion, he once again falsified his date of birth, this time making himself six years older so that he could legally hold a job. His work gave him economic stability and a better business sense. When work was slow, Ari would read the financial pages for the London and New York stock exchanges and eventually he put his knowledge into a speculative investment which paid $700 in handsome returns. He bought a new wardrobe and began to frequent the night clubs in new fashion.
In his search for "perfection," Ari became tuned into the cultural aspects of the region and it was for this reason that he attended the opera in which Claudia Muzio was the soprano interpreter. It was by no means an easy courtship but Ari ultimately succeeded in becoming Claudia's lover. Claudia opened up the doors of Buenos Aires to Ari and his destiny started to change.
As he continued his work as a telephone operator, another brilliant idea came to him. He envisioned the tobacco of the orient spreading rapidly in Argentina and he wrote his father with a proposal to ship him tobacco for a contracted rate. He was convinced that Turkish tobacco, more so that Cuban tobacco, would appeal to the female public in Argentina. The deal was more complicated than Ari anticipated, however. Apparently, at this time, women smoked only in private and not in public, so his orders were initially limited. Ari decided to persist when no one bought his tobacco and he opted to open up a cigarette production line himself. He produced two types, "Osman" and "Primeros", and thousands of dollars in profits started to come in. With the help of his cousins Kosta and Niko Konialidis, he enlarged the business to that of import and export.
Unfortunately, Ari was soon informed by Kostas that taxes on goods of importation from countries that didn't have trade agreements with Greece would have a one thousand percent increase. Ari immediately understood the danger that such an increase would pose to the Greek government. Naturally the danger included all of Onassis' personal business. Ari painted the reality to the Greek government in a memorandum stressing how the new taxes would ruin the sea trade. This memorandum for the Greek government didn't effect the increase towards Argentina. He was given the appointment to the Greek consulate in Argentina.
Home-sickness and sweet nostalgia was pervasive in Ari's mind afterwards. The memory of the sea and the port, the scent of mimosa and jasmine, the bread fresh out of the oven, the ship's siren sound, the steam engines and the orchestra music, the folk-songs and the smell of coffee that reminded him of his infancy and the love for his native city. This sense of nostalgia began to consume him. Ari wasn't a sailor and didn't have the instincts of a sailor, but was a native of a Greek sea-city and poured out all his feelings onto a project to obtain some whips containing his name, his flag, and his colors.
The ship offered Ari the opportunity to free himself from the ghosts of his dreams interrupted from his youth; it offered him a coherent symbol of his might and aims to embody the myth of Odysseus in his lifetime--the eternal traveler pushed to discover the limits of the world. As a ship owner, Ari started a seemingly endless adventure, awesome in dimension, to experience a continued mix of success and defeat and the strength of the human character.
4. The Penelope and the Socrates
Ari arrived at a crossroads in his life. The gains he earned with tobacco was still insufficient to satisfy his heavy aspirations. Ambitious and avidly aware of his own talent, he noted while carrying the function as Consul how fascinating the world of the sea is. As Consul, he enjoyed resolving ships' problems in port, and had the energy to grasp the situations behind sea-transportation and maximizing shipping profits.
Having decided to find ships at any cost, he started a voyage of Europe in order to find the "lost ship." He returned from Europe unconvinced of what he had seen, but Kostas, his inseparable friend and perpetual businessman, found a "possibility" in Canada.
Onassis left immediately. The ships were anchored on the Saint Lawrence River and belonged to the Canadian National Steamship Company, a subsidiary of the Canadian National Railways. The company was resolved to selling the various ships, weighing anywhere from 8.5 and 10 thousand tons, at scrap-metal prices. Onassis examined the ships, and made his own estimates. He offered to buy six ships each for 20 thousand dollars apiece. The company had wanted to sell only two ships, but relented; Onassis was finally a ship owner, and he promptly installed his cousin into a brand new office and designated Nikos Konialidis his curator for naval business.
The first two ships released from the yard after the acquisition were names after his parents Socrates Onassis and Penelope Onassis. With his soon-to-be legendary flair for business, Ari kept his ships in the yard until he judged market demand was right for their release. However, he had to make up the $120,000 that he had borrowed from various banks, and there was little room for error. When he thought that he had arrived at the right moment, his small armada sailed in low waters with a quantity of Canadian newspaper, the prestigious Daily Mirror of Lord Rothermer. The other transports followed one another and Onassis began to ameliorate his starting investment, but it was not easy.
Rotterdam was the sight of the new fleet's first troubles. The Onassis Penelope was stuck in port, blocked by the Port Authority because a Greek sailor was sick and had to be substituted with another Greek. The ship flew a Greek flag, and the crew needed to be completed in order to successfully transport the cargo. Ari went to Rotterdam, but his protests didn't yield many results. The ship had to unload the rest of its load in Copenhagen, which wasted valuable time. Ari dismissed the Consul, his old friend from school, with the phrase "come and see me tomorrow on board." The phrase seemed sublime, but the Consul had underestimated Onassis' mighty power as a man and deep desire to avoid defeats and losses. This was a classic example of Onassis' firm desire to succeed.
Ari called his legal advisors and Kostas Gratsos. His agents took only until that night to register the ship under the Flag of Panama. The morning after, the Greek Consul received a bottle of champagne on board the Penelope. Accompanying the champagne was a note informing him to take the Greek flag with him, for he was now on board a Panamese ship, signed by Ari. The changing of the flag, an immediate resolution to a nagging problem, revealed itself as Ari's winning card. He started a practice which many ship owners soon followed. The advantages were undeniable, especially from a fiscal point of view. Taxes were nonexistent, the ship could now trade with any value, and was no longer subject to most exchange rules. The ship owner could now establish the number of the crew on the ground purely according to the ship's need, and these hirings were no longer carefully checked.
Onassis returned from his trip to Rotterdam, reassured that he had found the right solution. His joy was comparable to that of a great scientist that had just discovered a new formula and was busy preparing himself for greater successes.
5. The Liberty Fleet and the OPM Technique
"Ari's business," a nickname that originated in the United States and lasted for years, soon prospered. When the Second World War finished, Ari had lost neither a ship nor a man. He was proud of this result, for three of his ships were rented to the Naval Commission of the United States, which yielded him $250,000 a year. Meanwhile, his oil tankers, long sequestered in Scandinavia, were now free from their forced anchorage. Ari had planned to build the world's first oil tanker of tonnage greater than 9000 tons, and gave the project to a Swedish firm. So was launched the Aristo and Aristofaneus of 15,000 tons each.
Unfortunately, the beginning of the war had caught these two ships in the neutral port of Goteborg, Sweden, and the Swedish government had sieged these ships as a symbol of its complete neutrality in the war. They were now free to carry their cargoes for Onassis.
Now he was being offered one of the greatest business opportunities of the post-war world. The United States Naval Commission put the Liberty Ships that were built during the war on sale. The price was established at $550,000, of which $125,000 could be used as a down payment, with the rest coming in 7 years at 3% interest.
Many ship owners were skeptical on the construction techniques used on these boats, but Ari's opinion was that they would be a good investment. His problem was that he didn't have the money for the 16 Liberty Ships he had intended to buy, so he applied for a bank loan. His technique was quite a bit risky; for, before actually receiving the money from the bank, he contracted transports of coal in South America, France, and Germany on ships that he didn't own. He then used these contracts as a guarantee to the banks, who gave him his money.
He used a different method to buy the T2 oil tankers that the navy put on sale for 1,500,000 each. As the principle clause of the sale, however, the tankers must be sold to an American citizen. Ari avoided this obstacle by creating an American company, United States Petroleum Carriers, with American shareholders. The government sold the new company four oil tankers. The next day, Onassis and his men anonymously took over the shares of the company that fell under the control of Ari.
Onassis' best invention, however, was the O.P.M. (Other People's Money). This idea wasn't originally created by Ari, even though he was a pioneer in the field. Credit for this innovation goes to Daniel Ludwig, a Michigan businessman. The bank refused a loan that would provide for the conversion of a transport ship into a tanker. However, Daniel had an idea; he could give a guarantee to the bank on an oil tanker that he already possessed, while he could use the profits from his transports as an identity to the bank.
The solution to this problem loan was actually simple and ingenious. Daniel Ludwig by now had perfected this technique, and defined it himself as the O.P.M. He asked the bank for a loan towards the construction of new ships but did not change the way he used the ships he already owned. The loan had to be deferred in different payments in order to permit the banks to be repaid before the new ships were actually built. The loan's guarantee came from the profits of the ships already on the water.
The banks called the operation of O.P.M. "card at double-name," for they possessed a double guarantee on their loans. Ludwig grew rich, but he never became a big ship owner. He invested the money he obtained in different areas, with the notable exception of shipping, and although his fleet was bigger than that of Onassis or Niarhos, did not play an important role in the industry.
6. Colombo's Egg
To be a ship owner now came to mean that you must love a risk on your own trade while carefully watching the fluctuations of the market. Of utmost importance is the oil-tanker's market, where a ship owner had to be ready to play the market if the right situation arose. Onassis used 30% of his fleet on the demands of the market, allotting these ships to be ready if the market was right. The other 70% was reserved for charters, or long journeys, that lasted a minimum of three years.
Ari used the mechanism of his charter to maximize the loans he received from the bank. In his hands, the O.P.M. transformed into a valuable instrument with notable advantages. By using the breach in the accord between Onassis and the First National Bank, Ari financed an entire fleet of oil tankers that made him the most famous ship owner in the world. In 1946, Onassis married Tina Livanos, a Greek with American citizenship, and established a home in New York. He was determined to gain respectability in the United States. In order to do this, he had to build his ships in the US. Ultimately, his plan was to bring millions of dollars into the American economy and to build super oil tankers in American yards.
Ari carefully sought out the right man to head up this task, and his search eventually led him to Harry Haggerty. Haggerty was Treasurer of Metropolitan Life Insurance, a huge company with capital exceeding 250 million. Haggerty was at first excited with the possibility, but in the end he could not agree to join an industry in which he understood little of the nuances. His negative answer did not discourage Ari, but encouraged him to try harder.
The principle obstacle lied in the fact that in agreements of charter, it was expected that if the ship would fail to complete its service, the charter would not be paid. The bank was not encouraged by the charter system, especially this particular lack of guaranty. Onassis fought this by changing his headquarters for the oil tanker company, which encouraged independent fleets to transport their product.
In effect, the oil tanker companies tried to keep the monopoly of the petroleum industry, from extraction to transportation. The transportation was wherein the problem was. In order to monopolize this facet of petroleum, the oil tanker companies had to put up huge amounts of collateral that would restrict their other activities, and subsequently added much risk to this venture. Understanding the situation and playing his cards well, Ari talked with the owners of the Socony Oil Company. He explained to them the bank's apprehension to finance, which they new little about. He told them that it was right that the companies that knew the field well and had drawn up a contract while knowing their risk, in veritas minimum, could be supported by the company and not the bank.
Ari's strength of persuasion was strong, considering his ship's solid reputation and his charismatic personality. What made his persuasion even stronger was the fact that he had covered all possible damages of his ships for the next three months. Everything was going well, but Onassis was hungry for more. He soon got it. During the period of charter, usually five years, he accumulated day-by-day periods termed "dead," that at the end of the charter became several months. It was in this period that Onassis attained a formidable idea, that he could change the accords between ship owners, companies, and financiers. His proposal went like this: "The need of my ships is very urgent; I propose a contract of charter that assures the payment for a ton and a month, for 60 months, that includes in the payment the dead periods without reducing the costs."
Before raising an objection, Ari proposed his counter-item; he would himself undertake a financing of the company for each dead period a double service. Periods longer than three months were covered in his assurance. Onassis was in the habit of illustrating his arguments with examples of comparisons; the powerful oil tanker companies could respect his ships that loded where he lives and for whom he is engaged to pay the rent. If the lodger was Rockefeller, and the house had a roof of gold or leaked was irrelevant. If the lodger accepted that he would have to pay the rent, that would be enough for anyone to lend money to the house. The ship situation was the same thing.
Socony accepted the proposal, which was an inevitable conclusion given the formula, and their assurance to pay with the low and the high tide, gave the financial society absolute security. This agreement established a new principal in marine financing. Wall Street could not avoid the financial sense of this accord; it opened a new field of investment, where banks' skepticism towards the market fell. In naval terms, one can say that after a long period of pitching, the naval financiers took the sea and reached two billion dollars in a short period of time. Ari had found Colombo's egg, but he loved to say to himself that his role in the accord yielded 40 million dollars.
7. Whale Hunting
"He killed only blue whales today, it has to be a secret," Bruno Schilaghecke wrote in his diary. He was a German sailor on board the Olympic Challenger Whaler, the flag-ship of Lars Andersen's fleet, the best whalers in the world. The adventure of the whaler had been ordained to fail by both the captain and the ship owner. The project "whaler" was born under such circumstances, as the usual Colombo's egg that resolves all such difficult situations.
When it became difficult to build ships in the United States, Ari went to Hamburg, Germany, where before the war he had ordered his super oil tankers to examine the situation of the Hamburg shipyards. The German economy readily received the ordering of ships, but the Potsdam Accords limited ships built to 115 tons.
Ari was disappointed, but Kostas Gratsos came through with a loophole. In the Potsdam Accords, it was written that Germany could enlarge its fleet of whalers, which created an empty space in a profitable market. But there was something else; it was not prohibited in German shipyards to convert preexisting ships. The connection was obvious. The oil tanker T2 Herman Whiton quickly became the largest whaler in the world, while The Olympic Challenger passed through 17 Canadian and British corvettes that formed a convoy to cross the Atlantic. The corvettes were naturally designed for hunting.
This started a new challenge for Onassis, a challenge far different from others, for Ari now knew how to play with loaded dice. He knew he had chosen a captain who was a Norwegian that had collaborated with the Nazis. Through this man, he enlisted 14 Norwegian artillerymen, including Lars Andersen, experienced in whale butchering. With a crew that had these qualifications, there was no problem passing the ship off as a whaler.
Given the scruples of a team of this type relative to the respect for international rules, the safeguard for the survival of the species - limiting whale captures to 16 thousand a year - was pure illusion.
The Olympic Challenger began harpooning whales a month prior to the opening of the season and did not distinguish between little sperm-whales and whales that were still just forming. Pieces of meat from the 124 dead whales lay still on the ship's deck. No one was at all grown up about it. Without any sensibility, they killed everything under the gun. These are the words of Bruno Schlaghecke, from the international commission for the hunting of whales, which bring forth his decisive evidence in the action against the Onassis fleet.
In Ari's opinion, the whales were there for the sole purpose of being captured. The only rule he knew in business was the prificts etic and that the price of whale's oil rises uncommonly fast. There surely existed another component to his fury, above the logic of gain. It is here that we find his instincts as a hunter, the enjoyment of capturing and destroying his prey. The first shipment produced 4,200.00 dollars and the massacre continued undisturbed for another 3 years until 1954.
That was a year of risk for the whalers. With the arctic zone now exhausted, the whalers moved along Peru's coast where an absurd limit was posed: In his territorial waters, where he exercised a fool military and administrative sovereignty, he moved within 200 miles of the coast. The actual limit was about 405 miles. The United States, United Kingdom, and Norway, the biggest producers of whale oil, protested and even without a written document, it seemed that Peru would not defend the imposed limit.
Onassis's fleet was navigating towards Peru, hardly exceeding the Panama canal, when the Peruvian newspaper organized an alarmist press campaign against his whalers. Acting with prudence this time, Onassis decided to stay out and ordered the captain to keep his ship to the limit of 200 miles. By now, he had already accumulated 60 thousand barrels of oil and captured 580 whales in the Arctic zone. On November 15, convinced by second-hand information that Onassis' ships had crossed the limit, sent an ambassador to intimidate the flag-ship and invited it to head for Lima. Instead, the ship continued on the sea and was fired upon by machine guns and bombed. The Captain Reichbert surrendered: the boarded ship was convoyed with 4 hunting ships in the port of Lima. The rest of the fleet was refuged in Panama. The result of the attack was discouraging - 400 sailors in prison and 5 ships sequestered.
The next day, the newspaper had a rich discussion of the matter. Nothing else helped Ari more than being attacked: the step was short from being "monster" that kills to victim of a conspiracy. The authoritative "The Times" of London, struck by a news conference held by Ari in "Claridge," wrote that the Panama's flag of Onassis' ships could be seen as that of freedom. So it seemed that the black flag of pirates depended on how you looked at it. This happened in the middle of November. At the end of the month, the supreme court fined the Olympic whaling, the Panama society owner of the fleet, 57 million soles Peruvian which corresponded to about 2,800.00 American dollars for killing a great number of whales in their water - about three thousand. The payment had to happen within 5 days or his ships would be forfeited and sold.
Ari didn't leave himself vulnerable: All the business fell to his insurance company, the fabulous Lloyd's of London. Onassis took precautions against each possible risk in covering his ships, including that of sequestration and capture. He even had a clause which forewarned that an indemnity of 30 thousand dollars a day must be paid if his ships had to navigating between October 7 and November 20 for any reason. Still, the far sightedness of Ari was his winning card. The Lloyd's paid the fee, the ships got the sea, but the whaler's adventures were finished however.
Where the Peruvian government could not succeed, the anger of the gloomy sailors that were witness of slaughter too cruel to continue to be silent were able to do so. Their testimony to the international commission of whale hunting bound the clamist Lars Andersen and the captain Reichbert to their responsibility. The documents produced and the photos adduced were incontestable evidence. The accusation gained in strength on the table of the jury - blue whales killed illegally, megatherium, sperm-whales - every species was killed without regard.
At the same time, March 1956, Ari dismantled his fleet, selling it for 8,200.00 American dollars to the Japanese, and had to find another business. He found the Pelagic fund, an institution where the goal was the safeguard of marine fauna and Onassis paid the principal quota of 570 thousand US dollars.
So ended Ari's proclivity for whale hunting, like the defeat of David over Goliath.
8. From the Sea to the Sky
Onassis needed the dominion of the sky, another mythical element of the universe dear to the classic world. The waters were already furrowed in all the world with ships that brought his colors, but the skies were not violated. Even if Ari preferred the sea and considered his ships the roots of a tree, he then considered airplanes as the leaves. He let himself attempt the project of taking off the national Greek airline and made it his creature.
The Greek prime minister Constantine Karamanlis, member of the right party national union radical, who arrived in power with the election of 1957 had decided to derive a source of richness which remained unused to that point. He had quite decided to take back the Greek economy and the richness and financial ability of the great ship owners.
Onassis was the first target, and the TAE was the first business offered. In reality, The loss of the company stimulated Ari to start the only private national airline in the world. The air fleet was derisory, 12 DC-8, the famous Dakota, and one DC-4. The only international service that he could boast was a weekly flight to Paris and one to London.
What Karamanlis asked Ari was to give an international rest to the company by taking it away completely. It was in this way that Onassis, migrating bird, poised himself on Greek ground and assumed command of 13 airplanes, signing the agreement on July 30, 1956. 856 people worked at TAE and all of them were hired by the Olympic Airways at the same salary and working conditions. By baptizing the airline with the name symbol of his winnings, Onassis showed that the airplanes would further his docket and money.
The negotiation with the government was meticulous and Onassis succeeded in gaining a series of important concessions. The government was anxious to encourage rich people to invest money in Greek enterprises and allotted the Olympic Airways special privileges: The monopoly on Greek aviation for 20 years, the reimbursement by the government for any unauthorized strike, reimbursement for loss in overseas flights, the right to bring their profits abroad, exemption from land taxation in Greece, the right to loan up to 3,500.00 US dollars from the government at a tax rate of 2.5%, and the exclusive rights on overseas flights.
The concessions were very generous, but the company was still working at a loss for years, even though Ari called in the Frenchman Tom Fabre who had directed the French line UTA. Fabre accepted the job for two years and helped Olympic take off, but the company was never a lucky enterprise. Without a direct plan or investment strategy, the company passed from one crisis to another. Ari asked that his monopoly rights be extended, because he intended on seeing better results in the long run. He obtained an extension until 2006 which included monopoly maintenance as well as the refueling of foreign airlines.
By June 1957, the Olympic had started its international activity with two weekly flights to London-Paros-Athens-Nicosia-Beirut and had added 3 DC-6's to the fleet. He had rented the airplanes from UTA with a renewing practice, even though the advantages were different, when Colone's regime asked him to potentiate the fleet with five Boeing 727's and two 707's for 54,100,000 US dollars. The company's problem was always that of acquisitions after seeing that profits were scanty. Using "subordinate loans" through his abroad society, Ari had managed to buy two comet English jets and three Boeing 707's. Now, the problem was difficult to resolve: the sum invested was such that it involved an issue of action which Onassis wanted to avoid at any cost.
He also resolved this situation by creating a society in Panama - "The Aircraft Leasing company" - that worked as a financial association, comprised 70% of the first national city bank, 15% by Boeing, and 15% by another one of Ari's societies in Panama. In this way, the aircraft leasing company bought the airplanes from Boeing and rented them to Olympic for ten years. The income of the rent served to extinguish the debts through interest payments, first to the bank, then to Boeing, and finally to Onassis' society. Onassis saw his 8,200,000 US dollars which he had invested in the business all returned. The company continued along with much difficulty.
9. The Decay
In reality there existed a little association that actually furnished profits and not losses. The Olympic Aviation was able to do this by offering service for the island with the hire of airplanes and also taxi-airlines. The society was guided by Alexander Onassis, first son of Onassis, to whom Ari was not supposed to give up command of the society. Because of his myopia, Alexander could not achieve the bravado of airline pilot, but became a commercial pilot and guided taxi-airplanes.
He became famous for his urgent transports even when the weather tried to dissuade him from leaving. He controlled little airplanes and had a good knowledge of motors. In his store of vehicles were two Piaggio that Alexander wanted to substitute with two helicopters because he found them too dangerous. The Piaggio were also used for Ari's personal transport, one was on the deck of his yacht, the Christina. After about a year of insistence, Alexander finally gained enough funds to substitute the helicopters.
Ari wanted his yacht to be brought to Miami with the Piaggio for his movement, and Alexander was entrusted with educating the new pilot Donald McCusker who was replacing Donald McGregor because of an injured eye. When he began to teach the new pilot, McGregor sat behind for ulterior control. At about 30 meters off the ground, the plane had just started the takeoff from the runway of the Athens airport, the airplane was inclined dangerously on the right and spun around in circles for 500 meters. It then smashed its nose, the tail and the other wing before finally stopping. When help arrived, Alexander was recognized only by the monogram on his handkerchief.
The next day, January 22, 1973 at 18:55, Alexander died. The death of a son can cause different reactions in different fathers, but we see how it affected Onassis from his future years. Immediately after the death, he decided to hibernate his son, and only after affectionate advice from his friend Georgakis did he give up the project.
Alexander was buried in Skorpios, the private island that Onassis bought in 1963 to make his own Ithaca. But the guilt of his father for not agreeing to the substitution of the Piaggios earlier still lingered. He couldn't accept the idea and spent the next few months trying to prove that the commands had been sabotaged.
The emptiness left by Alexander would not remove Ari from the taste of struggle that always supported him. The summer of 1973 was a moment of prosperity for the ship owners of oil tankers. The tariff on the market grew continuously and the VLcc and ULcc, big oil tankers obtained from a single voyage from Kuwait to Europe brought a profit of 4 million US dollars. With entries of 12 million dollars in a month derived from 100 ships, the price of oil increased by 8% for the year and Ari ordered his other 4 oil tankers to Japanese yards and 2 ULcc to France.
However, this was the obvious answer to the market's condition and so there wasn't a sense of victory or triumph. When his cousin Kostas congratulated him, he answered "I'm not happy, it's not always millions that resolve what a man needs." An epic was clearly finished. Ari always measures his success in mathematical terms and now that method had fallen short. Money no longer gave him the pleasure of life. He threw himself into a new project with renewed energies. It was the construction of a refinery in New Hampshire. He presented the project to the locals in October of 1973 and waited. The refinery will never be built.
Onassis found himself in contrast to the public opinion, an assembly of trained citizens. The oil would pollute the water permanently. Onassis didn't care about the assembly of civils and succeeded in the liberty affair behind the law court. He had faced Aramco, the association dominated by the four big American oil tankers for the business in Saudi Arabia. On that occasion he lost, but he had been strong in his challenge. Now in front of an assembly of citizens reunited in a gymnasium, he was in trouble, not knowing how to use his strength of persuasion and charm.
He abandoned the conference and left for New York feeling beaten. The sentiment of danger in life did not excite him anymore. In flight from Acapulco to New York with his second wife Jackie Bouvier, widow of Kennedy, he drew up his will. He wrote pages after pages with tremendous mental effort. The giant had surrendered in front of the reality of death. He felt sick and was diagnosed with a serious form of myasthenia that would claim his life in less than a year. The scripture proceeded rapidly and the pages accumulated quickly.
"To my beloved daughter" were the words that began his last will. His empire would be separated into two financial districts, alpha and beta. Alfa would keep the capital of heritage together and beta would have the shares of alpha. Christina, his heir, received all the heritage of the first society, while the principal share of beta, 52%, went to the "Alexander Onassis Foundation." The intent of the Foundation was to perpetuate the Onassis spirit through charity, art, and the development of Greece.
His daughter Christina had already begun her training and showed gifts similar to her father. On February 6, Onassis was hospitalized to have his gall-bladder operated on. The operation was successful, but he was very weak afterwards. The days passed in a continuing cycle of hope and disappointment until March 15, 1975. It was on this day that death, behind him for two years and ready to seize him at the first sign of surrender, finally found an opening large enough to win over his resistance. He was buried in Skorpios near his son Alexander.

ONASSIS SAGA



When his son Alexander was killed in a plane crash in 1973, Aristotle seemed to lose his lust for the pursuit of profit. "I'm not happy. It's not always millions that resolve what a man needs," he told an associate who congratulated him on the continuing success of his tanker fleet. He died two years later, leaving his vast estate to be divided between his daughter Christina and The Onassis Foundation, which promotes charity, art, and development in Greece.

The fortune afforded Christina a lavish lifestyle, with homes in Athens, Paris, Acapulco and New York along with the island of Skorpios and her father's huge art collection. The money did not bring her happiness, however, and she died alone and in despair in 1988. And so the legacy was passed to her daughter Athina.

Her father, Thierry, spent a decade fighting to wrest control of the money from the Greek businessmen Christina left in charge. He persuaded the trustees to allow him $13 million a year to raise little Athina, along with an annual allowance of $1.4 million to top off his $20-million divorce settlement.
"He always wants more," complained the chief trustee Stelios Papadimitrou of Thierry. "The man has certain ambitions, that is to handle the inheritance… but there is a will we operate within, and that is Christina's." "I want to ensure that at least some of the Onassis fortune is conserved," countered Thierry, accusing the trustees of mismanagement. The rows came to an end in 1999 when a Swiss court transferred control to KPMG of Lausanne, cutting both Thierry and the managers out of the loop. As of January 28, Athina herself takes unilateral control, and the financial world and society at large will be watching closely to see what choices she makes. Some reports suggest she would rather be free of the money, which she blames for her mother's unhappiness.

"If I burn the money there will be no problem," she once told her stepmother. "No money, no problem."She has expressed an interest in transferring the bulk of the fortune to good causes, and is known to have consulted the advisers that helped Bill Gates channel his billions into charities. For the moment, however, nothing is certain.

Onassis & politics - Taub testimony


















I wish to share with you the testimony of my friend William L. Taub, I have wrote hereunder main informations he provide to me years ago.

I was in London with Hermione Gingold. She was playing in a West End production, and we were having a roaring good time as always, but my conscience bothered me every time I read a newspaper.

Finally I flew to Paris to pay my respects to Aristotle Onassis, who was dying. I walked down the halls of the American Hospital, not sure of where he was, looking into rooms until I found him. His door was wide open and the room was dark. A door leading into an adjoining room was also open, but both rooms were empty except for the comatose man lying on the bed. No wife, no daughter, no family whatsoever was in sight. No private nurse, not even a security guard was with him, and Onassis looked as if he were already dead. His face was yellow and sunken and his body was shriveled up. He looked so small and helpless that anyone so inclined could have put him in a bag and carried him off.

The scene was a replica of the last days of Onassis's brother-in-law, Dr. Patronikolas, who lay gravely ill for some time in a New York hospital. When no wife or family members came from Athens, I paid some of his mounting medical bills myself, and then arranged through the Banque Romande in Geneva for power of attorney to enable me to pay the rest. Then Patronikolas was flown to Athens, where he died in late 1972. The bad blood between him and Onassis had never been resolved.

At the time of Patronikolas's abandonment I had said to myself, How could this possibly be, that a man could die all alone? That day in the American Hospital it all came back to me, the shock and wonderment and lack of understanding. If ever there was a family that played out its tragedies in the ancient Greek style, it was this family, and all too often I had been caught in the thick of the strife. And if there was one figure around whom the many recurring elements of my life revolved, it was Aristotle Onassis. Oil, Nixon, the CIA, Saudi Arabia, the Kennedys, Eisenhower, Howard Hughes, Josephine Baker, William Rogers, Achilles Vlachopoulos, Z—all were bound together in my association with this intensely difficult, larger-than-life man who now lay alone in his bed like a pile of neglected bones.

It was only his wealth that remained vital; his physical self had already become insignificant. My association with Aristotle Onassis went back to the 1950s, when he was having big legal problems with the U.S. Department of Justice. The source of these problems remained a secret until 1978. Had I known before, the mysteries that bedeviled me all those years would have been clarified. Everything makes sense now that I know the deep involvement of that now-familiar combination: the giant oil multinationals, the CIA, whose agents performed for the multinationals as if they were on their payroll, and Richard M. Nixon. The plans to ruin Onassis were carried out in the name of national security.

Call it a dry run for Watergate. In 1954 Aristotle Onassis was already a millionaire many times over. He had just signed an agreement with King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia that would enable him to ship 10 percent of the oil flowing out of the kingdom. The king, however, died shortly after the contract was signed, and the giant oil companies in America were outraged that their hegemony had been threatened by a man whom they feared they could not control. Then a mysterious and alarming chain of events began that nearly did Onassis in. He was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General Herbert Brownell. The indictment was prepared by Warren Burger, head of the Justice Department's Civil Division.

Onassis was accused of violating the Merchant Ship Sales Act, which forbade the sale of American surplus ships to foreigners. His legal problems were soon compounded by what seemed to be a plot to destroy his character. He was called anti-American, that pervasive fifties charge, as well as a Nazi sympathizer and a Communist sympathizer who intended to ship all that Arabian oil to the Russians. The character assassination went on all over the world, and Onassis was unable to find out who was behind it.

Then private information concerning his business affairs began leaking everywhere. Onassis had the utmost confidence in his top executives. Many were family members or close lifelong associates. Suddenly their confidential transactions were being made public. It didn't take him long to conclude the telephones in his offices in America, Europe, and Saudi Arabia were tapped. Several of his executives also told him they thought they were being followed. Matters got even worse. The Saudis, under the new king, reneged on their agreement.

Onassis's whaling fleet was attacked by Peruvian planes, and all over the world his tankers lay empty, the result of a concerted boycott by the oil companies. Once his agreement with Saudi Arabia had been revoked, the pressure subsided, but the Onassis empire was still reeling from the full-scale war directed by parties unknown and therefore impervious to counterattack. Shortly before Eisenhower's second inauguration, and at Onassis's request, I discussed the savage attacks on him privately with Eisenhower, telling the President they seemed to emanate from within the U.S. government. In his usual perfunctory way Eisenhower reached for the telephone and called Attorney General Herbert Brownell. He asked Brownell what the situation was with the Onassis indictment. I don't know what Brownell told him, but it was short and sweet. Eisenhower hung up the telephone and said, "I don't know what's going on, but Brownell is going to talk to William Rogers and get back to me.

I thanked him and left. Several days later, on a Sunday, I had lunch with Onassis, Johnny Meyer, and Darryl Zanuck in New York at the King Cole Room in the St. Regis Hotel. "It's all set," Onassis said to me cryptically. I knew what he was referring to. "Call me at the Pierre tonight at eight." When I called him that evening he told me his troubles with the Justice Department would soon be over, though he had no more insight into why the persecution had ended than why it had begun. He believed one very hefty contribution to the Republican party had been part of the solution at that time.

My association with Onassis in the following years was always difficult because I resisted his pressure to work for him as an employee. I preferred to remain his representative on certain business affairs, particularly those involving Saudi Arabia, where I could be useful to him. He offered many incentives, even throwing in Maria Callas at a time when I was trying to get a commitment from her for a musical production. Callas had been as unreachable as the moon. Suddenly she was practically in my lap, a paragon of sweetness and cooperation. However, when I still refused to go to work for Onassis, her cooperation dissolved. Aristotle Onassis was a firm believer in mixing business and pleasure. Marriage was also a matter of commerce. My association with him was further complicated by my deep friendship with Professor Gerasimas Patronikolas, who was also the great favorite of Onassis's son, Alexander. Patronikolas was warm and giving.

Onassis could be unbelievably remote, even cruel, toward his family. He was estranged from his son. When Alexander died in the airplane crash, Onassis belatedly realized how much he had lost. However, the enlightenment that came with grief did not result in a renewal of ties with his brother-in-law. In fact, the enmity increased. As in a Greek family tragedy, the daughter was just like the father, and consequently there was something of a bond between them. In 1973 a new business relationship, again with Saudi Arabia, this time under King Faisal, rekindled our friendship. Shortly before his final illness I told Onassis that I had paid for many of Patronikolas's medical expenses myself and had received no reimbursement. After his death I expected Christina to honor his pledge, as she was well aware of her father's promise. I gave her all the necessary documents, which she looked over without a word, cold as an icicle. I have yet to see any repayment—and don't expect it.

This year, 1978, the complete story of the plot to destroy Aristotle Onassis surfaced. It sounds sadly familiar. All the usual names are there: Howard Hughes, William Rogers, every big American oil company, John Roselli, the CIA, the FBI, the Justice Department, the State Department, and Richard Nixon. The game plan: to maintain the American corporate stranglehold on Arabian oil under the cover of national security. Richard Nixon was Vice President, and the orders came directly from his office. Onassis was to be smeared, bugged, indicted, physically threatened, and destroyed in the name of free enterprise and the safety of the free world. Nixon succeeded in having Onassis's contract with Saudi Arabia broken. The plan was carried out by agencies of the United States government without the knowledge or approval of anyone but Nixon and his underlings, and paid for by the United States taxpayers, all for the benefit of the giant oil companies and Richard Nixon.

William Rogers succeeded Herbert Brownell as Eisenhower's Attorney General, surfaced again as Nixon's Secretary of State, and is now the representative of the Shah of Iran. John Roselli went on to plan the aborted assassination of Castro and the effective assassination of Trujillo. He was brought into CIA employ by Robert Maheu, who soon rose to prominence in Howard Hughes's Sanctum Sanctorum. The American oil companies continued to pour money into Nixon's campaign coffers as freely as they siphoned oil out of Arabia.

The CIA went on to involve the multinationals in other assassinations, other coups. Warren Burger was appointed Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by Nixon. Aristotle Onassis went on to even greater wealth and a marriage of commerce to Jacqueline Kennedy, catapulting himself into the very lap of the gods. Still, he died a very bitter, lonely, disillusioned man. Richard Nixon went on to the Oval Office, where he assembled a similar but much larger cast with a much more ambitious intent, and he came very close indeed to success. How close he came is the part that sometimes keeps me awake at night. A book about a person still caught up in the thick of living is difficult to end. Recent events, flowing as they do out of the names and places described in my story, are hard to put in perspective: my life remains open-ended, unresolved, subject to surprises and change of heart. The greatest change for me has already taken place. My decision to tell about the things that have happened to me up to the present has meant that for the rest of my life I can no longer be what I have always preferred to be: an anonymous man.

Onassis Empire





















Aristotle Onassis, founder of the immense Onassis empire, was one of the most remarkable businessmen of the 20th century.

He showed his aptitude for challenge at an early age when he succeeded in helping his father escape from a concentration camp during WWI.



The 16-year-old Aristotle lied about his age to avoid detention and then devised a plan to liberate his parent.

The Onassis legacy begins when, as a teenager, he famously arrived on the docks of Buenos Aires with only $60 in his pocket. In the years that followed the Turkish-born entrepreneur built up a successful tobacco business in Argentina, marking the beginning of one of the 20th century's greatest rags-to-riches stories.

After purchasing his first ships in the early 1930s Ari moved into the tanker business and went on to marry, in 1946, the daughter of Greek shipowner Stavros Livanos. The two men joined forces with fellow countrymen Stavros Niarchos to form the most powerful shipping cartel in the world.

The world's first oil super-tankers, The Aristo and The Aristofaneus, each capable of carrying a 15,000-ton cargo, exemplified the scale and ambition that characterised the man. But business wasn't all about simply making a profit.

"After a certain point money is meaningless," he once said. "It ceases to be the goal - the game is what counts."The opportunity that was to make him one of the world's richest men was yet to come, however. When World War II ended and the United States decided to sell off 16 of the ships it had built during the conflict, Aristotle - taking a risk that shocked the business world - agreed contracts to transport coal in South America, France and Germany using vessels he did not yet own. He then used the contracts to secure a bank loan in order to purchase the ships.

Determined and aggressive business practices such as this continued to attract attention, and his reputation was badly damaged when the Peruvian government jailed 400 of his sailors and seized five of his ships for illegal whaling. He then moved into the air transport business, founding Greece's Olympic Airways in 1957.

But the spectacular successes of the past were behind him, and in 1973 his life was struck by a tragedy from which he would never fully recover when his only son Alexander was killed in a plane crash. Aristotle died two years later.

Aristotle's drive to make money was matched only by his desire for the opposite sex, and his philandering was to wreak havoc on the emotional lives of all those close to him.

"If women didn't exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning," the shipping magnate once said. His marriage to Tina Livanos, the mother of his children Christina and Alexander, was brought to a bitter end by his affair with opera singer Maria Callas. When Tina discovered the two together on the Onassis yacht she told Callas' husband, but he simply laughed it off and so she filed for divorce. The affair is said to have had a devastating impact on Christina and her brother, who deeply resented the singer.

It was Aristotle himself who finally put an end to the relationship, however, before turning his attentions to the iconic widow of US President John F Kennedy.

Ari's marriage to Jackie in 1969 left Callas deeply wounded, just like Tina before her. "The worst thing is that he didn't say anything to me about the marriage.

After nine years at his side, I think he was obliged to do that;" she told a friend. "It's cruel… both should pay."His children were likewise unimpressed by his new partner. "My father loves names and Jackie loves money," Alexander declared, while Christina's take was even less sympathetic: "I don't dislike her, you know.

I hate her," she is quoted as saying. Any hopes of a happy family environment developing were dashed by Aristotle's own harsh line on his new wife's role. "She's got to learn to reconcile herself to being Mrs Aristotle Onassis," he said.It was against this troubled backdrop that Christina grew up, feeling estranged from both her parents. Aristotle, constantly busy with work and women, is said to have preferred Alexander, and the vulnerable child was shown little affection by her mother. Friends say that Tina would make hurtful remarks in front of Christina, complaining that she had inherited her father's dark features and heavy body rather than her own sleek, blonde elegance.

When his son Alexander was killed in a plane crash in 1973, Aristotle seemed to lose his lust for the pursuit of profit. "I'm not happy. It's not always millions that resolve what a man needs," he told an associate who congratulated him on the continuing success of his tanker fleet. He died two years later, leaving his vast estate to be divided between his daughter Christina and The Onassis Foundation, which promotes charity, art, and development in Greece. The fortune afforded Christina a lavish lifestyle, with homes in Athens, Paris, Acapulco and New York along with the island of Skorpios and her father's huge art collection.

The money did not bring her happiness, however, and she died alone and in despair in 1988. And so the legacy was passed to her daughter Athina. Her father, Thierry, spent a decade fighting to wrest control of the money from the Greek businessmen Christina left in charge. He persuaded the trustees to allow him $13 million a year to raise little Athina, along with an annual allowance of $1.4 million to top off his $20-million divorce settlement.

"He always wants more," complained the chief trustee Stelios Papadimitrou of Thierry. "The man has certain ambitions, that is to handle the inheritance… but there is a will we operate within, and that is Christina's." "I want to ensure that at least some of the Onassis fortune is conserved," countered Thierry, accusing the trustees of mismanagement.

The rows came to an end in 1999 when a Swiss court transferred control to KPMG of Lausanne, cutting both Thierry and the managers out of the loop. As of January 28, Athina herself takes unilateral control, and the financial world and society at large will be watching closely to see what choices she makes. Some reports suggest she would rather be free of the money, which she blames for her mother's unhappiness. "If I burn the money there will be no problem," she once told her stepmother. "No money, no problem."She has expressed an interest in transferring the bulk of the fortune to good causes, and is known to have consulted the advisers that helped Bill Gates channel his billions into charities. For the moment, however, nothing is certain.

As Christina moved into adulthood she embarked on a series of failed marriages and her fragile self-esteem was further damaged by cruel newspaper reports referring to her as "thunder thighs" and "the Greek tanker".

Her brother's death in 1973 was another terrible blow, and though Aristotle finally began to appreciate her, Christina had lost not just her sibling, but her closest friend. Her father's newfound paternal interest was a welcome development, no doubt, but it came late in his life and he too passed away just two years later.In 1983, lonely and desperate to have children, Christina met Athina's father, Thierry Roussel. When Athina was born in 1985 it seemed the happiness she longed for was finally hers, but problems soon developed in her relationship with Thierry and rumours abounded that she was handing over huge sums of cash to persuade him stay with her.

Her weight fluctuated wildly and Thierry cheated on her publicly. It seemed to be a tragic case of history repeating itself as the man on whom she had banked her happiness turned out, like her father, to be a philanderer. When the heiress discovered he had fathered two children with ex-flame Gaby Landhage she finally gave up on the relationship.

A despairing Christina wrote her will, leaving the entire Onassis estate to Athina, and left for Buenos Aires. A few weeks later she was found dead at a friend's home, her untimely passing attributed to a heart attack. She was 37 years old.Since that fateful day on November 19, 1988, Athina has lived with her father and step-family in Switzerland. While views may differ about his qualities as a husband, it is widely accepted that Thierry is a kind and devoted father.

Young Athina, who inherits the £5-billion family fortune as she turns 18 on January 28, lost her mother when she was just three and suddenly became the richest little girl in the world. Christina Onassis, whose life had also been marked by tragedy, had determined to create a secure and loving environment for Athina, but unfortunately her own emotional difficulties made this an impossible goal.

While she doted on her baby daughter, Christina's relationship with Athina's father Thierry Roussel was troubled, and when they eventually divorced, her struggles with depression deepened. Desperately trying to be a good mother, Christina lavished gifts on little Athina but Thierry objected, insisting that was not what she needed.

"I want her to know that money is not everything," he said. "I want her to know that it is not a gold statue which you must venerate."

Some might feel his concerns were valid, considering the baby's first pram was a £6,000 miniature Ferrari and her toybox was full of her mother's jewellery, according to sources close to the family.

"Thierry was never really trusted by any of Christina's Greek family or friends but, to be fair, he used to be quite serious about making sure Athina wasn't spoiled," commented one friend.The protective father is said to have confiscated the Ferrari and strongly objected to the private zoo which Christina had built for her daughter's second birthday.The conflict between her parents was shortlived as Christina's personal difficulties worsened and in 1988 she was found dead at a friend's home in Argentina. The tragedy was attributed to a heart attack, thought to have been brought on by years of drug abuse.

"I will move heaven and earth to stop my unhappiness continuing with Athina," she once said. "I don't believe it is always waiting in the darkness for her, as it always seemed to be waiting for me. I will always be there for her."

While Christina's relationship with Thierry was difficult, he seems to have honoured her wishes. In the wake of her death, he immediately set about providing as secure and nurturing an environment as possible for their daughter, bringing her up on the shores of Lake Geneva with the help of his new wife Gaby.

Athina is known to be deeply devoted to her father, stepmother and three half-siblings, with whom she lives in a modest five-bedroom villa. As a child the heiress received no more pocket money than her siblings, and what she did get, say family friends, was generally spent on her horse. A passionate equestrian, Athina has been offered a place on the Greek Olympic team for 2004.She attended a regular state school, but kidnap threats meant that a heavy security presence was always necessary. A team of former SAS guards drove her to and from home in a bullet-proof limousine and kept watch over her at all times.

The young billionaire is uninterested in the trappings of wealth, and despite references to what has been called the "curse" of the Onassis fortune, Athina's upbringing has given her a very different start in life to her mother. Hopefully one which will enable her to avoid the mistakes which so plagued Christina.
Rarely photographed or interviewed, she has shunned the bright lights and partying in favour of concentrating upon her education and seems to have led a relatively sheltered social life. In recent months, however, she has been linked with 29-year-old Brazilian showjumper Alvaro 'Doda' Alfonso de Miranda, a divorcé with a two-year-old daughter. Apparently unperturbed by the gap in their ages, Athina's father is understood to have given his blessing to the couple. Although she has grown up with tragedy and constant media attention, Athina has a reputation for being a kind-natured and mature young woman. She is a "straightforward, uncomplicated, unspoiled teenager," says her father.