Andronico Luksic

Billionaire industrialist

Sunday 14 July 2013 03:04

Andrónico Luksic was a Chilean entrepreneur who became one of the world's richest men, through a combination of hard work and a dedication to getting on with all those in Chile who could favour his interests. He was as much persona grata with the elected government of Dr Salvador Allende between 1970 and 1973 as with General Augusto Pinochet who overthrew Allende in the bloody coup of 11 September that year. Luksic's success at political relationships was illustrated by the almost universal praise that senior Chileans politicians of all persuasions paid to him.

Andrónico Luksic's father Policarpo migrated to Chile from the town of Supetar on the Croatian island of Brac in the first years of the last century and went into the then prosperous nitrate industry in the Chilean Atacama Desert. Andrónico, the elder of two brothers, was born in the regional capital, Antofagasta, in 1926.

He read Law in Santiago, went to Paris to study and returned to buy a share in a Chilean copper mine. In 1954 he sold it to Japanese investors for "50,000" and was delighted when they paid in US dollars rather than the much less valuable Chilean currency of the day which he had expected to receive.

He first came to international attention in 1980 when he took control of the British mining company Antofagasta (Chili) and Bolivia Railway Company which had been listed on the London stock exchange since 1888 and was honoured with the nickname of "Fags". He renamed it Antofagasta Plc and at his death the family owned two-thirds of it.

The railway linked his native city to La Paz, the commercial capital of Bolivia, and was one of that landlocked country's precarious links with sea and the outside world. It was also the object of constant wrangling between Chile and its poverty-stricken and resentful neighbour. Luksic developed the water resources which had kept the railway's steam locomotives going, into a business which provided water for the main centres of the area.

He went back into mining, acquiring the very large Pelambres copper mine in the Andes near the Argentine border; into banking with the Banco de Chile; into food with Lucchetti, a dried pasta firm prominent in Peru; and into brewing with CCU, the principal producer of beer in Chile. In Croatia he was a force in advancing the country's tourism industry, developing a close relationship with General (later President) Franjo Tudjman and persuading Chile to be among the first countries to recognise Croatian independence in 1991.

The political side of his business deals could not but bring Luksic headaches. Rightly or wrongly, he was associated with an illegal sale by Argentina of weapons to Croatia when it was subject to an international arms embargo. As Chile's relations with Peru deteriorated, Lucchetti's fortunes suffered and Luksic fruitlessly sought the legal settlement with the Peruvian government of an investment claim: the Banco de Chile's financial arrangements with the Pinochet clan brought Luksic difficulties with the US financial regulators this March.

Andrónico Luksic's fortune, often estimated at more than £2.5bn, will have been swollen by the present international price of copper, which has tripled since the end of 2002. In a newspaper interview earlier this year, his son Jean-Paul said, "We've got so much money we almost don't know what to do with it." As well as acting as financial benefactor to the politicians he relied upon, Andrónico Luksic was a giver to charity, bestowing largesse quietly to those causes which he favoured.

Hugh O'Shaughnessy

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments