Robert Maxwell: Man in the Middle

Ghislaine is just a living legacy to the leader of the scam.

GHISLAINE MAXWELL, the (“alleged”) sex trafficker and god knows what else, is the subject of a new book, a new documentary, and at least two new podcasts. But as inscrutable as she appears, it’s her old man who was the real riddle.

Abrahaim Lein Hoch was born on June 10, 1923, in Slatinské Doly, a nothing little town in that neglected part of Eastern Europe where Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary converge. Now it is part of Ukraine; a century ago, it was on the eastern marchlands of Czechoslovakia.

His parents were Orthodox Jews, and he grew up speaking Yiddish. Mechel Hoch and the former Hannah Slomowitz had seven children. Two did not survive childhood; four others did not survive the war. When Hungary was occupied by the Nazis in 1944, Mechel, Hannah, and their children were sent to Auschwitz, where they died. The family’s lone survivor was Abrahaim, the second child and oldest son, who had already left his flyspeck of a hometown to fight the Nazis.

In his adventures in the war, he was known by many names: Abraham Hoch. Ján Abraham Ludvík. Jan Ludvick. Ivan du Maurier. Leslie du Maurier. Leslie Jones (!), an alias he used when interrogating Nazi prisoners of war. It was not until 1948—three years after the German surrender, and a year after his arrival in Britain from Berlin, that nest of spies where the British Foreign Office had posted him in the aftermath of the war—that he formally changed his name to the one by which the world would come to know him: Robert Maxwell.

As Kirby Sommers writes in her fascinating new book, Ghislaine Maxwell: An Unauthorized Biography, Maxwell was given two pieces of advice by his beloved mother: 1) Behave like an English gentleman, and 2) Don’t tell anyone you’re Jewish. Taken together, the message from Hannah Hoch could be distilled to this: Never show your true self.

And Robert Maxwell never did. The guy was a funhouse mirror. He was enough of a gentleman that he hobnobbed with the Queen and the royal family, but he was also, as one of his detractors put it, “a peasant.” He was a Jew who relished the killing of Nazis, but he was also an inglorious bastard. He loved his mum but hated women. He was a socialist and Labour Party MP who swindled his employees out of millions of pounds. His wealth, like so much about him, was an illusion, a shell game.

Even his death is shrouded in mystery. All we know is that in the wee hours of November 5, 1991, not long after ending a phone call with his son, he wandered out on the deck of his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, and either fell or was pushed into the sea, where he drowned. He was naked, as he liked to be. Maybe he’d had a few cocktails. We don’t know if the Kidon got him, or if he fell overboard while taking a leak. Both explanations are plausible.

What we can say for sure is that Robert Maxwell—scrappy survivor, superspy, social climber extraordinaire, and scoundrel of all scoundrels—is perhaps the ultimate Man in the Middle, occupying the nexus where many different worlds intersect:

British Intelligence

What was Robert Maxwell, newly-minted British subject, doing in Berlin in the years after the war? In ‘45, the guy’d been awarded the Military Cross for storming a German machine gun nest, so he was kind of a badass. He was fluent in a number of useful languages—nine, according to Sommers. And he was used to keeping secrets and employing different aliases. Are we to believe he was really there with the Foreign Office, as the cover story claimed, pushing papers around a desk? That MI6 wasn’t savvy enough to make better use of such a singularly useful intelligence resource?

Czechoslovak Intelligence

Whatever he might have said about his Jewish heritage in public, Maxwell was an early, ardent, and highly influential Zionist. According to the John Loftus and Marc Aarons book The Secret War Against the Jews, Robert Maxwell leveraged his contacts with the Czechoslovak Communist government to convince Prague to arm the Israelis in the ‘48 Arab-Israeli War. The authors suggest that Maxwell helped smuggle aircraft parts into Israel, helping the fledgling Jewish State achieve air superiority during the conflict—and ensuring that it would not be strangled in the cradle.

Israeli Intelligence

Not long before Maxwell’s death, Ari Ben-Menashe, formerly of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate, or Aman, publicly claimed that for decades, Robert Maxwell had been working for Mossad. The British press was reluctant to run the story. Maxwell was both very good at shutting down bad press, and also extremely litigious; he denounced the allegation as “ludicrous, a total invention”—fake news, in other words. But the rumors persisted, bolstered by their mention by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. In October of 1991, some three weeks before Maxwell met his maker, two British MPs raised the issue in the House of Commons, which allowed newspapers to report on the allegations without being sued for libel. Whether Maxwell was Mossad, Aman, or something else entirely, it seems preposterous to think that he didn’t have some sort of working relationship with the intelligence community of the nation he’d helped defend in its infancy.

Russian Intelligence

Even the British Foreign Office thought he was on the payroll of the KGB. His FO file describes him as “a thoroughly bad character and almost certainly financed by Russia.” The FBI had the same suspicions, although nothing was ever definitively proved, or, to be more accurate, no proof was ever made public. But a relationship with the Russians seems likely, given his alleged association with…

Semion Mogilevich

…the godfather of godfathers of the Russian mob—one of the principal architects of the transnational organized crime network that in 2021 threatens global democracy, and the very existence of life on this planet.

The British journalists Gordon Thomas and Martin Dillon make the claim in their book Robert Maxwell: Superspy that, as Nina Burleigh nicely summarizes in a piece she wrote for Rolling Stone, “Maxwell was a conduit between the KGB, the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, and the emerging Russian kleptocrat oligarchy in the 1980s, creating some 400 companies that were used to launder the newly capitalist Slavs’ dirty money.”

That highly-specialized role—human escrow account; clearinghouse for the “World Beneath”; the Dirty Money-Man in the Middle—is allegedly the same one played by his sort-of son-in-law and heir apparent…

Jeffrey Epstein

According to a report by Zev Shalev at Narativ, before he got with Ghislaine and established his sex trafficking-cum-kompromat operation, Epstein learned at the right hand of her father. The widely-reported story of the two meeting after Robert Maxwell’s death, Shalev says, is bunk.

“While it’s true that she moved to New York [after 1991], the story about her meeting Jeffrey in the 90s is a lie,” he tells me. “On Narativ, we revealed that Jeffrey and Ghislaine met as lovers in London in the early 80s, and that her father Robert Maxwell took a liking to Epstein as a future son-in-law.”

In effect, Robert Maxwell handed off his peculiar business to Epstein. “My investigation also revealed a sweeping multi-generation intelligence operation,” Shalev says, “which began with Robert Maxwell, continued with Jeffrey Epstein, and remains active today with Ghislaine.”

(You can watch the full report here).

Rupert Murdoch

The two foreign-born media moguls were rivals for decades, beginning in 1969, when they vied for the British tabloid News of the World. (Murdoch won, as he usually did.) Was there more than meets the eye to the relationship between these frenemies?

The Australian-born Murdoch held enormous power over Maxwell. As Jason Diamond writes in his review of John Preston’s Maxwell book, Fall:

Throughout the book [Fall], the two can be seen as a kind of Roadrunner and Coyote of new media, with Maxwell playing the disconsolate latter….Maxwell’s rivalry with Murdoch touched on obsession; that is, Maxwell was obsessed with showing one person, and one person only, that he could keep amassing power. As Maxwell’s former chief-of-staff notes at one point, “a particular note came into Maxwell’s voice” when he talked to Murdoch on the phone. “Maxwell would sound almost matey; it was as if he wanted Murdoch to be matey with him. The really odd thing was it was like listening to someone who craved acceptance.”

In some ways, the two are mirror images of each other—except that Murdoch survived his yacht mishap. But then, as I said before, he was usually the winner.

British Royal Family

For a Jewish Czechoslovak immigrant of low birth, rakish personality, and questionable reputation, Robert Maxwell sure was chummy with the royal family. There are lots of photos of him with Queen Elizabeth II, who obviously delighted in his presence. He was well acquainted with Princess Diana and Prince Charles—and his daughter Ghislaine and her sex trafficking partner Jeffrey Epstein were notoriously tight with Prince Andrew. Everything that rises must converge, I suppose; money opens the most gilded of doors; even monarchs need to have friends. But why Robert Maxwell, of all people?


In the end, Robert Maxwell was a fraud. He presented as a British gentlemen, but was neither; he didn’t use his real name; he refused to admit that he was Jewish; he was affiliated with so many foreign intelligence services that we have no idea where his ultimate allegiance lay. He was also a fraudster, a Bernie Madoff of the U.K. He racked up massive debt; he invested in projects which failed spectacularly; he was desperate to conceal his embarrassing misfortune. In a similar pickle, Donald John Trump turned to the Russians. Maxwell simply looted the pension fund of the Mirror Group, his publishing company, ultimately fucking his employees out of their retirement money. His own vanity was more important than the livelihoods of the people who worked for him—including his sons Kevin and Ian, who had to pick up his mess after his death, resulting in criminal charges and much public humiliation.

There was no difficulty fishing his corpulent corpse out of the water, incidentally, after Robert Maxwell drowned off Grand Canary Island. Shit floats.

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