Robert Maxwell & the KGB

According to new revelations, the ultra-wealthy financier and elite sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein had a mentor who recruited him into Israeli intelligence early in his career: billionaire media tycoon Robert Maxwell. And nearly three decades before Epstein’s highly suspicious death, Maxwell would suffer a similar murky fate. What did Soviet intelligence know about Maxwell? KGB veteran Col. Nikolai Shvarev tells Moscow Center’s side of the story:


At the beginning of the 1990s, his mysterious death became a sensation. And that’s just for starters, after all, 68-year-old Lord Robert Maxwell – owner of one of the largest media empires on the planet; a billionaire; friend of Leonid Brezhnev and other politicians around the world; a carouser and debauchee whose impressive size and ferocious personality earned him the nickname “the killer whale” – had died.

On that fateful night of November 4th, 1991, Maxwell’s yacht Lady Ghislaine was not far off from the Canary Islands. The Lord had gone to bed after an early-morning phone call with his wife. And…he disappeared. Only the next day did search and rescue personnel discover his body in the ocean. Doctors ascribed it to a heart attack that caused Maxwell to fall overboard. But soon the doctors’ verdict would be disproven. Judging by the injuries to his body, they determined that someone had dumped him from the deck into the water.

Along with the death of the billionaire, all his money disappeared from his accounts. His great media empire collapsed like a house of cards. And there came rumors that the drowned man had been an agent of four of the world’s intelligence services at the same time!

Nikolai Shvarev
Author KGB Col. Nikolai Shvarev

A Tangled History

The English lord changed names like pairs of gloves. He was neither Robert nor Maxwell, said Genadii Sokolov, a historian on intelligence who worked with the magnate at the end of the 1980s. He was born in 1923 in Czechoslovakia, in the Carpathian village Slatino-Selo, now the Ukrainian village of Solotvino. Abraham Lazby was the ninth child in Mikhail and Anna Hoch’s family. They lived in a small clay cottage with an earthen floor.

When Hitler’s forces occupied Czechoslovakia, the parents registered their son as Jan Ludvik Hoch. From that time, he became a member of an underground organization that was illegally ferrying youth to France. He was arrested and sentenced to death, but the young man escaped. Through Serbia, Bulgaria and Turkey, he reached Syrian Aleppo, then French territory. There Jan joined the Foreign Legion.

Soon after, he was sent with his group of legionnaires to France. Here the lad took up a new name, now calling himself Ivan du Maurier. At this time he participated in the French Resistance movement and then the Allied landing at Normandy. Further on fate landed him in Great Britain, and now Ivan became Leslie Johnson. The British recruited the young man into the intelligence service. Leslie was fluent in English; German; French; Czech; Slovak, Hungarian; Romanian; Russian; and Hebrew.

When he received a combat decoration from the hands of Marshal Montgomery, he had changed his name for the fifth and last time – to Robert Maxwell. Our hero finished the war as a captain. It was then that he contacted a representative of Soviet intelligence for the first time.

Work for the KGB and Mossad

It happened in the following manner: After the end of the war in 1945, Maxwell began searching out his relatives. Czechoslovakia at that time was in the Soviet occupation zone, and therefore he sought help from Soviet military authorities in Germany. And so contact was established with emissaries of the USSR’s NKVD. News about the fate of his parents was tragic: they died in Nazi concentration camps. But Soviet intelligence’s relationship with Maxwell got its necessary development.

We’ll note that Maxwell has been christened one of the greatest spies of the Cold War. His record, however, isn’t limited to work for Moscow. The main intelligence service in his life was Israel’s Mossad. Itzhak Shamir himself, the future Prime Minister of Israel, enrolled Jan Ludvik Hoch into the Zionist underground organization Irgun at the beginning of World War II. There he received the agent callsign “Little Czech,” under which he worked his entire life. The French Resistance and British Army became the first phases of the Little Czech’s service in Zionist intelligence, well before the founding of the State of Israel and Mossad.

Further on fate took its own turn, and Maxwell left the British Army in 1947, entering the publishing business. Moreover, after the war Captain Maxwell had been the head of the British Foreign Office’s press bureau in occupied Germany, where he made the needed connections. The capital for his scientific publishing house Pergamon Press made up all of 100 pounds sterling.[1]

Having foreseen its importance in the modern world, the enterprising Maxwell made his bet on scientific information. This sphere became fertile ground for the intelligence services as well. After all, scientists and academics aspired to publish their works in his journals and release books under his label. The Little Czech’s masters could find much of interest there. Maxwell published, for example, the Soviet physicist Lev Landau.

Soon the publishing house became a leader in scientific-technical literature as well history, politics and memoirs. This was also done with an intelligence objective. At once the spy took under his control the publication of the UK Mirror Group’s six newspapers, plus the US publisher Macmillan’s magazines, books and newspapers. These were so-called publications for everyday people.

The Empire Spreads

Over the course of the 1980s, Maxwell’s media empire encompassed 125 countries. He was known as a major publisher in Britain and held second place in the United States. Aside from newspapers, magazines and books, he had a stake in radio stations and television channels (MTV, for example). Competitors called him “Hurricane Bob,” and intelligence services – Captain Bob.

This enormous media empire became a cover for Captain Bob’s espionage mission. It was a secret operation by Mossad, CIA and MI6. The objective – infiltrate a mole into the Kremlin. Captain Bob’s masters organized such a legend for their agent that the USSR’s leadership wouldn’t entertain any doubt as to the billionaire’s loyalty.

But what kind of legend was this?

In August of 1968 Warsaw Pact forces entered Prague. Not even all of the countries in the socialist camp approved, not to mention the West, incensed by the “occupation”… And suddenly a major Western billionaire, a media magnate and British member of parliament publicly announces that he supports the entry of Soviet forces into Czechoslovakia. It’s necessary for the preservation of security in Europe, you see… And it was especially poignant that Maxwell himself was a native of Czechoslovakia.

The announcement was a bombshell.

Leonid Brezhnev immediately invited Maxwell to Moscow. The conversation took place one-on-one in Russian, without interpreters or protocol. Much brought them together: past combat, a love for cars, hunting and drinking. Robert became the General Secretary’s friend, and they met regularly. Western intelligence analysts impatiently awaited reports on their discussions. CIA, MI6 and Mossad achieved their goal: their man had gained entry into the Kremlin’s halls of power.

And so began a line of publications of “dear Leonid Ilyich’s” works throughout the world. Brezhnev gloried in the praises his books received. After Brezhnev’s death, Captain Bob developed contacts with new general secretaries – Andropov, Chernenko and Gorbachev. And he remained the Kremlin’s most important propagandist of the Soviet system abroad. The Central Committee’s agitprop generously paid for Maxwell’s services from state coffers. It stands to note that Lubyanka correctly thought that Western intelligence services were using Maxwell as a disinformation channel to the Soviet state. But they couldn’t do anything. Maxwell, after all, had reached a level inaccessible to Lubyanka. He was in contact with the elite of the nomenklatura, untouchable even to the Chekists.[2]

Israel and the Coup

By the middle of the 1980s, Moscow had come up against the global challenge posed by the United States. CIA Director Casey developed a new plan for fighting the USSR. A special role was set aside for Maxwell’s empire – to roll out a campaign of support for Gorbachev’s ruinous policy. The very author of Perestroika was satisfied working with Maxwell. The pro-Gorbachev Pravda and Moskovskie Novosti began publication in English in the West. Raisa Gorbacheva’s Our Heritage could be found next to popular glossy magazines. All this was secured by Maxwell. World popular opinion took “Gorby’s” side. But in his home country, the explosive potential of the people’s dissatisfaction was building.

Robert Maxwell Gorby AP
Mikhail Gorbachev feeling fantastic with Robert Maxwell. Photo Credit: AP

Vladimir Kryuchkov, having gotten to the post of KGB chairman, had his own designs for the spy. He was concerned by Gorbachev’s reforms and the fate of the country, which was coming off the rails. Kryuchkov quickly found a common language with Maxwell, since both spoke Hungarian well.

In the first half of 1991, the chief of the KGB had two secret meetings with the Mossad agent. The subject was Israel’s support… of the coming operation to remove Gorbachev by the Emergency State Committee (GKChP). Kryuchkov was looking for allies in the West in the fight to save the USSR.

Maxwell supported Kryuchkov’s idea. Mutual obligations were set down. The Committee would receive political and moral support from Israel. Maxwell would ensure a campaign of support for the Committee through his publishers throughout the world. In the case of victory, Kryuchkov guaranteed the unimpeded departure of all Jews from the USSR to Israel.

The magnate also had his interests. By 1991, his media empire’s debts outweighed its profits. In order to save it, Maxwell commandeered 1.2 billion dollars from the Mirror Group’s pension fund, but it still wasn’t enough money. New credit was required.

Kryuchkov couldn’t help – the USSR itself had fallen into a pit of debt. London and Washington and already lost interest in Captain Bob – Casey’s plan to collapse the socialist bloc had been realized. Only the Israelis could finance Maxwell for his mediation in a great exodus of Jews from the USSR. It remained to convinced Israel to support the coup…

At the beginning of August 1991, Kryuchkov had a third meeting with the magnate on board his yacht. Maxwell also invited trusted figures from the Mossad’s leadership. Israeli Prime Minister Itzhak Shamir, however, didn’t support the Kryuchkov-Maxwell plan: according to his analysts, the Committee’s chances of success weren’t great.

Having learned of Premier Shamir’s refusal, the Little Czech desperately attempted to convince him via telephone to help the USSR and immediately extend credit to his staggering media empire. He even decided to blackmail the premier, threatening him. He had clearly gone too far, thereby placing himself in the crosshairs. Shamir called the chief of Mossad and demanded to get rid of the Little Czech once and for all. What happened after can only be assumed on the basis of media leaks.

It’s claimed that on the night of November 4th, 1991, a group of Mossad assassins on a raft approached Maxwell’s yacht and boarded. After a short battle, they gave the magnate a lethal injection that caused his heart to stop beating. His body was thrown into the water. The British billionaire was buried in Jerusalem. And a month and a half later, the Soviet Union’s number was up.[3]

The British Trail

The British secret service, MI6, stood at the origins of Maxwell’s media empire – Russell Davies writes about this in his book Foreign Body. According to his claims, MI6 “tossed” half a million pounds sterling Maxwell’s way. This was at the very beginning period of the Cold War, when a significant part of Europe still lay in ruins. In response to the “handout,” Maxwell, using his contacts with Soviet authorities, supplied supposedly confidential information to British intelligence, which used it for penetrating the USSR’s secret scientific research institutes.

Then, the author believes, MI6 had burgeoning suspicions regarding Maxwell’s contacts with Soviet and Israeli intelligence, and that he was using the money assigned him to expand his business. For this reason, MI6 didn’t let the billionaire off the hook right up to his death in 1991.

Soon his gigantic financial empire, consisting of both state and private companies, popped like a bubble. At the same time, according to the results of court proceedings on alleged large-scale pension fund fraud in the Robert Maxwell Group, after conferring several weeks, a jury issued a not-guilty verdict for Robert Maxwell’s sons Ian and Kevin, as well as for his former advisor Larry Trachtenberg.


About the Author: KGB Colonel Nikolai Aleksandrovich Shvarev (b. 1934) is a veteran of the KGB First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence). Before entering the KGB he was an officer in the Airborne Forces. He served abroad on several assignments, including as deputy chief of staff for the KGB spetsnaz unit Kaskad in Afghanistan.

Work Translated: Шварев, Hиколай Александрович. «Медиамагнат на службе у Москвы Независимое военное обозрение, 07.09.2018.

Translated by Mark Hackard


[1] Journalist Gennadii Sokolov correctly notes that the temple in Pergamon (Asia Minor) was named by John in Revelation 2:12 as the “throne of Satan,” which makes Maxwell’s name for his publishing house especially odd.

[2] Former KGB First Chief Directorate officer Col. Stanislav Lekarev (1935-2010) elaborates on Maxwell’s work in the Soviet Union: “Maxwell cooperated, but he never forgot about his own financial interests. He helped socialist nations found joint enterprises abroad, but not for free. As a result, two million dollars, secretly issued by the Bulgarian government for laundering money from narcotics trafficking, disappeared in Western banks. He insistently proposed bank accounts in Lichtenstein to high-level Soviet Party figures. For assistance in opening such accounts for KGB officers and Communist Party representatives, Maxwell received commissions. In MI5 such information was deemed especially valuable.”

[3] Lekarev continues: “From the end of the 1980s, with Maxwell’s help, operations to launder CPSU money abroad began. During this period Maxwell was in contact with [KGB] Colonel Vladimir Golovin from ideological counterintelligence [Fifth Chief Directorate]. Soon he died unexpectedly. Colonel Viktor Bredikhin, a former officer of the London Residency from foreign counterintelligence, also worked with Maxwell. And, working in the KGB, he also suddenly died. Another one of Maxwell’s operational contacts was Colonel Vadim Biriukov, who regularly traveled to European countries for meetings with foreign agents. Soon after Maxwell’s death, Biriukov was killed under unclear circumstances in a Moscow parking garage by unknown individuals.”

Photo Credit: AP

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