Australian tycoon dies on the run with £64m debts

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The Independent Online

Australia's most wanted white-collar fugitive, Christopher Skase, has died of cancer on the Spanish island of Majorca, but the Australian government has vowed to continue pursuing his missing millions.

The Attorney General, Daryl Williams, said Mr Skase, 52, died at about 9pm BST on Sunday after a decade-long fight against extradition to Australia where his Qintex media and property empire collapsed in a A$1.5bn (£546m) meltdown in 1990. Mr Skase was among Australia's youngest and most flamboyant high-fliers in the 1980s, amassing a fortune of A$100m and revelling in the luxurious lifestyle that his success brought him. From nothing, the former journalist built an empire which owned a string of luxury resorts and a television network.

Mr Williams said a list of more than 60 criminal charges would be withdrawn, but the government would continue its hunt to recover A$177m (£64m) owed to Mr Skase's creditors. "Mr Skase's death does not affect the bankruptcy proceedings," Mr Williams said, after briefly expressing his condolences to Mr Skase's family. "His relatives are still available to provide information."

Mr Williams said a warrant was outstanding for Mr Skase's son-in-law, Tony Larkins, but he declined to comment on the position of his wife, Pixie. The Spanish Justice Ministry said yesterday it had received no requests for extradition.

Mr and Mrs Skase were famous for their lavish parties, flying guests to Spain from Australia, and their love of all the trappings of wealth – a yacht, a jet, luxury cars and art.

It was a brief flirtation with Hollywood ambitions that led to Mr Skase's downfall when a US$1.5bn (£1bn) bid for MGM-United Artists fell apart amid costly lawsuits. Mr Skase fled Australia in 1991 with debts of more than A$80m, leaving just A$167 in his bank accounts.

The collapse of Qintex precipitated the A$3.15bn failure of the State Bank of Victoria in 1991, then the largest corporate bankruptcy in Australian history. While other Australian corporate heroes-turned-villain – such as Alan Bond – faced the music in the courts, Mr Skase eluded attempts to return him to Australia on grounds of ill health. He bought a mansion in Majorca and became something of a local celebrity.

The disgraced tycoon earned little sympathy from Australians as he was photographed in his mansion pleading poverty. He was also filmed walking his dog after attending a court extradition hearing in a wheelchair and clutching an oxygen mask.

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