Posts Tagged ‘Broadway’

The Thyssen Art of Tax Avoidance . . . and Philanthropic Feudalism

During our research for ‘The Thyssen Art Macabre’, we became witnesses to the art of what is now being called ‘aggressive’ tax avoidance, as a result of our participation in a lengthy masterclass with one of the world’s leading exponents. It was Heini Thyssen himself who admitted to us that his primary mission in life had not been the collecting of art or the maintenance of an industrial fortune, but the avoidance of paying tax. Indeed on page 319 of our book we quoted his astonishingly frank statement word for word: ‘I am a tax evader by profession. If you wanted to be correct, I should be in jail’.

The most intensive part of this masterclass came when Heini chose to take his son Heini Junior (Georg Thyssen) to court, in order to break up a Bermudan trust and regain control of the family fortune. This was not only a structure that had been designed to make such disassembly as difficult as possible and thus protect the fortune from alimony claims, irresponsible siblings and, in Heini’s case, his own extravagance, but it was also meant to minimise its exposure to tax liabilities.

I was astonished that, considering the financial importance of this process to the Thyssen-Bornemiszas, the cost of which, one way or another, they would all be contributing to, not one member of the family displayed any interest in visiting the island, to see if their legal and financial representatives were handling the task with due diligence; a process that would eventually result in a legal bill of some $150,000,000. So I offered to go on their behalf, in the knowledge that the very rich rarely do anything for themselves, even collect art; preferring to have others do things on their behalf.

It was in Bermuda that Caroline and I got to know Heini’s barristers, Queen’s Counsellors Michael Crystal and Robert Ham and their local solicitors, Appleby Spurling & Kempe; experts in tax efficient, financial logistics – and in whose gardens we would complete each day’s activities with refreshing bottles of chilled champagne. Then, more recently, I was reminded once again of their existence when a vast cache of their highly privileged clients’ records were mysteriously leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists from the offices of what had now been rebranded as simply Appleby. This resulted in a spectacular media exposure which has come to be known as the ‘Paradise Papers’.

Around the same time that this financial pasta was beginning to slide off the edge of the plate, the less financially privileged were starting to realise just how iniquitous the super rich really can be. There is increasingly a perceived imbalance reminiscent of feudal conditions, which seem to be favoured not least by those whose marriage has led them to co-opt scions of defunct aristocratic dynasties. The highly paid advisors, meanwhile, had started putting strategies into place in order to meet the PR-challenges of the forced increase in transparency now being applied to offshore financial instruments and their wealthy users.

With this backdrop, Heini Thyssen’s daughter, ’The Archduchess’ Francesca von Habsburg, whose name featured prominently in the ‘Paradise Papers’, wasted no time in announcing to the world her own seemingly admirable ‘mission statement’. This was to use part of her estimated $350,000,000 personal fortune, – inherited from her father, some of which was provided by the Spanish tax payers, when he sold them half his art collection – to save the world’s oceans from pollution.

She also began referring to herself as an ‘executive producer’ and ‘agent of change’.

Soon her London-based organisation TBA21-Academy was said to be ‘curating a top level conference at the Bonn Art Museum’ (a publicly funded organisation!) at the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). But in truth this was but a one-day coming together of some of the privileged recipients of her ‘altruism’.

In order to assist her in such an intellectually complex activity, she had recruited the services of a major Broadway-based public relations organisation called Resnicow and Associates, which specialises in ‘online strategy’, ‘core missions’ and ‘sponsorship“; though considering her exceptional wealth one would not have thought that Francesca Habsburg-Thyssen needed the latter. But I know from my own experience that she has invariably asked others to contribute financially to her various socio-cultural activities over the years. And this has also included those in control of public funds.

Meanwhile, I noticed that she still had her British Virgin Islands-based Fragonard art sub-trust in place, into which her inherited Thyssen-Bornemisza art collection share had been placed in 1993 and which was said to have engendered a presumably Cayman Islands-based trust with the assistance of Appleby Trust Cayman Limited in 2008. Then there is the Alligator Head Foundation Jamaica. She also continues to enjoy the amenities of Thyssen Bornemisza Group (TBG) AG Zurich, TBG Holdings Limited Bermuda, Favorita Investment Limited Malta and other such tax-efficient facilities.

The apple seemed not to have fallen far from the tree and her father’s influence possibly continued to affect Francesca Thyssen’s exposure – or not, as the case may be – to tax in Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Jamaica or anywhere else she may see fit to lay her head.

And it looks as if even a supra-national entity such as the United Nations may be ‘endorsing’ her enterprise in philanthropic feudalism, which would be viewed with a distinct lack of sympathy by polemicists, such as myself and my collaborator. Indeed the latter told me: ‘Aggressively avoiding the payment of tax can hardly be considered helpful to governmental agencies who are responsible for the protection of the environment. Using tax payers’ money to fund one’s own, indulgent self-promotion is even less so’.

But presumably Resnicow is intending to garner sufficient public enthusiasm for Francesca Habsburg’s cultural endeavours in the months ahead to successfully persuade those who care, that should she indeed be aggressively minimising her exposure to the payment of tax, she will nevertheless be perceived as a true philanthropist, acting only in the public’s cultural and environmental interests.

And Resnicow will surely be able to help with disaster management advice, if German academia and the media is ever obliged to accept the truth of our account of where Francesca Thyssen’s fortune comes from. Or if she is held accountable for fulfilling her promise of assisting in locating the graves of one hundred and eighty Jewish slave labourers put to death by the SS ‘guests’ of her Aunt Margit Batthyany-Thyssen in the grounds of the family’s Rechnitz castle in 1945.

Meanwhile, one should perhaps be reminded that the last time there was a Thyssen financial interest on Broadway was during the Second World War, when it was the location of the Thyssen family’s Union Banking Corporation in which they and, so it was rumoured, a number of prominent Nazi party members kept a few million emergency dollars, and Prescott Bush, grandfather of George W Bush, was a director!


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Lorne Thyssen – Buying Scholarship or: ‘does money smell’?

While both ThyssenKrupp and the Thyssen Bornemisza Group continue to pay academics and charitable foundations to rewrite their past, one member of the family has additionally been funding scholarship in order to buy an exalted academic identity for himself; with wealth polluted by the same tarnished history.

Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza was born in Switzerland to the Scottish fashion model Fiona Campbell-Walter, who by the time of his birth was already separated from Lorne’s legal father, the Hungarian, Dutch, Swiss, German, Catholic, industrialist and art collector, Baron Hans Heinrich (Heini) Thyssen-Bornemisza; a man with his own identity problems, for whom Fiona had been his third wife.

As his second son, Lorne was also encouraged to adopt the ‘theatrical’ Austro-Hungarian title of ‘Baron’, despite the fact that in Switzerland (where waiters refer to him as ‘Mr Baron’), Austria and Hungary, the title has no legal status and Heini claimed his adopted son’s biological father was actually the American, Jewish, TV producer Sheldon Reynolds. But that didn’t stop Heini from accepting Lorne as a legal heir and supplying him with a dangerously generous allowance.

Lorne was educated at Le Rosey, a cosmopolitan, Swiss school that is perhaps better known for the wealth of its students’ parents than their off-springs’ academic achievement and from where he was expelled prior to completion of his International Baccalaureate studies. However, he did subsequently complete his basic Swiss Military Service while displaying less enthusiasm for gainful employment at the Thyssen Bornemisza Group´s corporate headquarters in Monaco.

Having adopted English as his first language, Lorne then established his colourful and extravagant social presence in London before endeavouring to read politics and philosophy at Edinburgh University. But as a result of the social distractions afforded him by his generous allowance, he failed to devote sufficient time to his studies and was obliged to abandon his academic ambitions.

He then moved to New York where he attended acting classes and even achieved some small measure of success in an off-Broadway Shakespeare play before moving on to Paris and from there to Beirut; where he acted in, and directed, a multi-million dollar, Thyssen-Bornemisza funded movie. He also adopted Muslim faith and became involved in Islamic mysticism, via the Sufi movement; whose funds he contributed to.

His generosity and the size of his inherited fortune were doubtless also instrumental in his being awarded a seat on the board of the Muslim Cogito Scholarship Foundation.

By now it must have begun to occur to Lorne that he could ‘procure’ academic status without the time-consuming inconvenience of having to study or take exams.

Heini had also taught him that cultural status could be obtained by the simple expedient of loaning out parts of his inherited art collection. A policy that would save on the cost of art storage and insurance.

So it was that he chose to loan his inherited collection of Muslim carpets to the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; which resulted in a considerable enhancement of his standing amongst Germany’s cultural elite.

Considering the amount of time and effort that the Thyssen-Bornemiszas had invested in avoiding being considered German and denying their historic connections with the country, particularly during World War II, Berlin was, despite being the recognised centre of oriental carpet dealing, an extremely strange choice of location. Presumably it was an attempt to enhance his profile in Germany while his adopted family history was coming under academic scrutiny.

But given that Lorne wanted to achieve academic status in the UK, his choice of Oxford was logical, entirely predictable and possibly offered tax advantages to both parties. Given the Thyssens’ history of support for the Reich, use of industrial slave labour, involvement in violent anti-Semitism, profits from arms manufacturing in two World Wars, avoidance of reparations and retrieval of German assets by means of manipulated nationality and use of covert international banking, Lorne’s acceptance as an Honorary Fellow by the Wolfson College, Oxford University, in return for setting up the ‘Lorne Thyssen Research Fund for Ancient World Topics’, was nauseating; particularly as the College was originally founded and funded by Isaac Wolfson, a devout orthodox Jew and committed Zionist.

This was certainly not the first time that the Thyssens had used philanthropy to enhance their academic status while hiding the less palatable details of their past, which doubtless led to great aunt Amelie Thyssen’s creation of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and aunt Gaby (Gabrielle Bentinck nee Thyssen-Bornemisza) giving money to Tel Aviv University via Lord George Weidenfeld, who developed a masterly skill in brokering such philanthropic deals. This process may also have encouraged Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust Commemoration, Documentation, Research and Education Centre) to overlook the Thyssens´ involvement in the slaughter of one hundred and eighty Jewish slave workers as after dinner entertainment at their castle in Rechnitz, Burgenland, Austria, on 24./25.03.1945. For one of the unfortunate by-products of academic philanthropy is that in protecting their benefactors, seats of learning are often encouraged to participate in historical amnesia.

Subsequently, Lorne’s freshly-minted academic status may have awarded his recently opened Kallos Gallery in London’s Mayfair some additional degree of credibility in its sale of his ancient Greek artefacts; if only he had resisted having the temerity to announce that he had signed up to ‘read’ Classical Studies with the Open University (having first presented the OU with ‘two fully funded MA scholarships…made possible through the generosity of Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza. The scholarships will provide the full fees for two year part-time MA studentships in Classical Studies at the Open University’) presumably in an attempt to acquire some small measure of legitimate, academic achievement.

Though I doubt that professional image builders would have encouraged such a revelation, as it could only serve to demote his elevated status as a ‘Fellow’ and ‘Honorary Fellow’ elsewhere.

I admire the Open University and used to respect Oxford University as what I believe I should expect it to be; an incorruptible seat of learning. But I don’t admire or respect academic whoring. There is too much of it about and, in this case, it is in clear contradiction of the old Latin adage, ‘Pecunia non olet.’

(p.s.: Lorne Thyssen is also a Fellow of The Royal Numismatic Society. At its 2012 International Congress held at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem he acted as a chairperson with presentations given by members of Staatliche Museen Berlin, Tel Aviv University and Oxford University – thus closing the circle of – what we have the right to consider – duplicity).

Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza pretending to be British and clean (

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