Rausing family values: the dark side of a dynasty

Milk cartons gave them one of the greatest private fortunes in Europe. But a drugs bust at the US embassy in London this week cast the secretive Tetra Pak clan in a shocking new light. Andy McSmith explores their very private lives

Saturday 12 April 2008 00:00 BST
(Scott Barbour/Getty)

Hans Kristian

If Hans K and his wife, Eva, were 25 years younger, you might think them the poor little rich kids. They were born into vast wealth, more money than anyone could spend in a lifetime, reckoned not in millions, but billions. In 2006, they sold their house in Cadogan Square for £12.65m, to move to an equally impressive five-storey mansion near by. They have also just finished building an 11-bedroom beachside mansion in Barbados, one of the biggest houses on the island, which cost them about £15m, and they have a large apartment on The World, a cruise ship for passengers who need to be offshore for tax-avoidance purposes.

Yet, amid such riches, the couple have been compelled to visit to a police station to answer questions, and Eva has been reduced to making a public plea for forgiveness after she was caught allegedly trying to take drugs into the US embassy. A raid on their home turned up a further £2,000 worth of heroin and crack cocaine, a drug associated more often with young people on rough estates than with middle-aged women in Chelsea.

At an early age, Hans Kristian appears to have decided he could not measure to his father or grandfather, and ran off like a 1960s hippy to India, where he picked up a drug habit. He was in rehab in the USA when he met Eva Kemeny. Her father, Tom Kemeny, is a former Pepsi executive, who owns an island off South Carolina and a property in Barbados. Hans, who calls himself Hans K, to differentiate from his father, seems never to have found a role for himself in life but, like most members of the Rausing family, he has been lavish in giving away money. Prince Charles described him as "one very special philanthropist". Eric Carlin, the chief executive of the anti-drug charity Mentor UK, was one of the first to come to the couple's defence after their arrest. Eva is listed as a patron of the charity, which she helped set up in 2000. She has given it more than £600,000. "If it wasn't for Mrs Rausing, I'm not sure we could have stayed afloat," he said.


Ruben Rausing, founder of the Rausing dynasty, is the man who inflicted on the world those useful but annoying plastic-coated paper cartons which, on a bad day, are nearly impossible to open without spilling milk over yourself. Love them or hate them, they are one of the world's most pervasive throwaway items. About 200 million are sold and discarded every day. Their advantage is that they can be produced cheaply in a way that meets rigorous health and safety standards.

The credit for designing them goes to a Swedish engineer named Erik Wallenberg, who accepted six months' salary as a one-off payment and must have dearly wished afterwards that he had patented his design instead of handing it to his boss, Mr Rausing.

A native of Raus, in Sweden, Rausing went as a post-graduate economics student to Columbia University in the 1920s, and spotted the growth of self-service grocery stores. He guessed there would be a demand in Europe for packaged food and went back to Sweden and teamed up with Erik Akerland to form Sweden's first packaging company. The moment at which the Rausing fortune was conceived apparently came one lunchtime during the war, when Rausing was watching his wife Elisabeth stuffing sausages, folding over and pressing shut the skins at each end, and wondered if some similar process could be devised for packaging liquids. He formed Tetra Pak, now called Tetra Laval, in 1944, as a subsidiary of Akerland and Rausing, but left it to his sons, Gad and Hans, to build up the business, which by 1990 was selling 50 billion cartons a year.

Dr Hans

The present patriarch of the Rausing family moved to the UK in 1980 to avoid Sweden's tax laws, and bought a 900-acre estate in Wadhurst, East Sussex, where he breeds deer and wild boar, and collects vintage cars. He sold his half of the business to his older brother, Gad, in 1995, for a reputed £3.5bn, which made him the richest man in Britain, though he has since been overtaken by Roman Abramovich.

He likes to do his own cooking, and does not like showing off his wealth. He drives a Morris Minor, and visits the barber in the village near by. He has been singularly astute at keeping his tax bills low, living here as a "non-dom", spreading his wealth through holdings in tax havens such as Liechtenstein and the Cayman Islands. In 2002, when he was still listed as Britain's richest resident, in one year he and his businesses received more from Inland Revenue than they paid in tax.

But he also began the family tradition of giving away vast sums of money; his children are now reputed to have donated £140m. Hans Rausing is not as rich as his widowed sister-in-law and her children, who held on to the family business, but having invested his wealth shrewdly for the past 12 years, his worth was reckoned in last year's Forbes rich list at £4.5bn, which made him the 73rd richest man in the world, equal with Rupert Murdoch.


It is Kirsten Rausing who, more than anyone else, runs the family business. She is the unmarried eldest child of Gad, Ruben's older son, who bought up his younger brother's share of the business in 1995 and died five years later, leaving Kirsten and her younger brothers, Finn and Jorn, in control.

Jorn, who lives quietly in London, avoiding publicity, is also a major investor in Ocado, the online grocery arm of Waitrose. Kirsten is also a leading horsebreeder, a member of the Jockey Club since 1990. In 1967, when she was 15, her grandfather Ruben left her in charge of his stud farm in Sweden. She ran it for 10 years, and ran another in Ireland for three years, then set up one of her own, in Newmarket, in 1980. The Lanwades stud farm started with a staff of two, which has grown to 35.

Like her brothers, she tries to avoid publicity, though in July 2003 she shocked the racing world by resigning from her post as a director of the National Stud because a new chairman was appointed without her being consulted. In last year's Forbes rich list, Kirsten, her widowed mother and her brothers were reckoned to be the world's 55th richest family, on a par with the Duke of Westminster.


The oldest of Hans Rausing's three children lives in Holland Park, and has a 32,000-acre home in Scotland. She is married to Peter Baldwin, professor of history at Los Angeles university, and is herself a historian, with a doctorate from Harvard. The couple run a trust called Arcadia to donate part of her fortune. It funds charities and other organisation that "preserve cultural and social knowledge or protect natural diversity". The fund gave £20m to the London School of Oriental and African Studies, and £2.5m towards a programme to put Harvard's library collection online.


In a rare interview, Hans Rausing's generally publicity-shy younger daughter confessed recently that as a child in Sweden she was acutely uncomfortable about being born into such wealth and "spent so many of my teenage years skulking in doorways, hiding away". Now, she ploughs much of that wealth into the Sigrid Rausing Trust, administered by the former ITN political correspondent Jo Andrews, which gives away £17.5m a year in grants to organisations that promote human rights.

It has handed very large sums to women's groups, especially those that help African women. It has also funded projects as diverse as international lesbian and gay rights, Holocaust education and human rights for Kurds. Her husband, Eric Abraham, is a South African-born film television and theatre producer, whose credits include Kolya, directed by Jan Sverak, which won an Oscar for best foreign language film.

They have a home in Holland Park with a two-acre private garden, said to be the second-biggest in London, behind Buckingham Palace's, and an estate in Scotland.

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