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Aristotle Onassis in 1967
|Born||Aristotle Socrates Onassis
20 January 1906
Smyrna, Ottoman Empire
|Died||15 March 1975
|Spouse(s)||Athina Livanos (m. 1946; div. 1960)
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (m. 1968–75)
|Relatives||Socrates Onassis (father)
Penelope Dologu (mother)
Artemis Garoufalidis (sister)
Onassis was born in Karatass, a suburb of Smyrna (now İzmir, Turkey) to Socrates and Penelope Dologu. Onassis had one full-sister, Artemis, and two half-sisters, Kalliroi and Merope, by his father's second marriage following Penelope's death. Socrates Onassis came from the village of Moutalasski (now named Talas), near Cappadocia in Asia Minor, which is the present-day city of Kayseri, in central Turkey. A successful shipping entrepreneur, he was able to send his children to prestigious schools. At the age of 16, Aristotle Onassis spoke four languages: Greek (his native language), Turkish, Spanish, and English, when he graduated from the local Evangelical Greek School.
After being briefly administered by Greece (1919–1922) in the aftermath of the Allied victory in World War I, Smyrna was re-taken by Turkey and the Onassis family's substantial property holdings were lost, causing them to become refugees fleeing to Greece after the Great Fire of Smyrna. During this period, Aristotle Onassis lost three uncles, an aunt and her husband Chrysostomos Konialidis and their daughter, who were burned to death in a church in Thyatira where 500 Christians were seeking shelter from the Great Fire of Smyrna.
Onassis imported tobacco from Turkey with help from his father. The tobacco was softer than the Cuban variety, and he was sure it would appeal to women more. After the failure of a contract with Juan Gaona, the director of a major Argentine company, Onassis turned to making his own cigarettes. After some time managing this business and holding a job with British United River, he made a considerable amount of money. His power and influence increased rapidly; he frequently attended important social events, and in 1925 he received both Argentine and Greek citizenship. According to Peter Evans and Christian Cafarakis (a former employee), a considerable part of the tobacco was smuggled, helping him to rapidly accrue his first million dollars. In 1928, Onassis traded with Greece to the value of US$2,800,000 just four years after his arrival in Argentina. This was due in part to other illegitimate activities such as sabotaging his competitors and fraudulently using the name of a famous cigarette company: Bis. This last enterprise was profitable, but ended when the real Bis company sued him.
The 1000% increase in tax on imported products from countries with no Greek trade agreement, announced in 1929, threatened Onassis's South American business. Argentina had few commercial relationships with Greece. With the help of his confidante, Costa Gratsos, Onassis corresponded with the prime minister of Greece Eleftherios Venizelos and met with foreign minister Andreas Michalakopoulos to discuss the tax position, finally winning support with the help of extensive bribes. In 1931, again with Michalakopoulos' help, Onassis was granted tax exemptions for his freight ships and the title of Vice Consul. This position greatly increased the status of Onassis as well as his business. The biographer Evans states that Onassis exchanged vast sums of Greek currency on the black market, in spite of Gratsos' disapproval.
Onassis founded Olympic Airways (today Olympic Air), the Greek national carrier, in 1957. Onassis made large profits when the big oil companies like Mobil, Socony, and Texaco signed long-term contracts at fixed prices with him for the use of his fleet, while having trouble managing their own fleets, which operated under US flags and thus at high cost. Onassis's fleet had Panamanian flags and sailed tax-free while operating at low cost. Because of this, Onassis could turn a profit in every transaction, even though he charged one of the lowest prices in the merchant navy market. He could recoup the cost of a tanker with a six-month contract. The rest of the service life of the tanker, usually 20 years, yielded high profits.
Onassis owned a fleet of freighters and tankers that exceeded seventy vessels. Stocks accounted for one-third of his capital, held in oil companies in the USA, the Middle East, and Venezuela. He also owned additional shares that secured his control of ninety-five multinational businesses on five continents. He owned gold processing plants in Argentina and Uruguay and a large share in an airline in Latin America and $4 million worth of investments in Brazil. Also, he owned companies like Olympic Maritime and Olympic Tourist; a chemical company in Persia; apartments in Paris, London, Monte Carlo, Athens, and Acapulco; a castle in South France; the Olympic Tower (a fifty-two-story high-rise in Manhattan); another building in Sutton Place; Olympic Airways and Air Navigation; the islands Scorpios and Sparta; the yacht Christina and, finally, deposit accounts and accounts in treasuries in two hundred and seventeen banks in the whole world.
He was in final talks with the King of Saudi Arabia for securing a tanker transport deal during the oil boom of the 1950s. Since the Arabian-American Oil Co. (Currently, ARAMCO) had a monopoly on Saudi oil by a concession agreement, the US government was alarmed by the tanker deal. By 1954, a specific U.S. policy for Saudi Arabia, in addition to strengthening the US "special position," was to take "all appropriate measures to bring about the cancellation" of an agreement between the Saudi government and Aristotle Onassis to transport Saudi oil on his tankers and "in any case, to make the agreement ineffective". [Doc. 128] The arrangement would have ended monopoly control of Saudi Arabia's oil by American oil companies, but was forestalled by the US government.
For this reason he became a target of the US government and in 1954, the FBI investigated Onassis for fraud against the U.S. government. He was charged with violating the citizenship provision of the shipping laws which require that all ships displaying the U.S. flag be owned by U.S. citizens. Onassis entered a guilty plea and paid $7 million.
Between 1950 and 1956, Onassis had success whaling off the Peruvian coast. His first expedition made a net profit of US$4.5 million. That business ended when the Norwegian Whaling Gazette made accusations based on sailors' testimonials, such as one given by Bruno Schalaghecke who worked on the factory ship Olympic Challenger: "Pieces of fresh meat from the 124 whales we killed yesterday still remains on the deck. Among them all, just one could be considered adult. All animals that pass within the range of the harpoon are killed in cold blood." The venture came to an end after the business was sold to Kyokuyo Hogei Kaisha Whaling Company, one of the biggest Japanese whaling companies, for $8.5 million.
The Greek Colonel affair
According to the Evans biography, four days after he married Jacqueline Kennedy in October 1968, Onassis was in close discussions with Greek Prime Minister Col. George Papadopoulos, who Evans states was on Onassis's extensive bribery list. Onassis and Papadopoulos were planning what they referred to as the "greatest business" in Greece. This project involved building an oil refinery, shipyards, power plants, and several aluminum facilities. The project was officially named the Omega Project. The project was heavily criticized by people such as Helen Vlachos, a journalist from Athens.
The Omega Project negotiations with the Papadopoulos government ended with Onassis losing part of the project to his competitor Stavros Niarchos. The failure was due partly to opposition from influential people within the military junta, such as Ioannis-Orlandos Rodinos, Deputy Minister of Economic Co-ordination, who opposed Onassis's offers in preference to Niarchos.
Relationships and family
Onassis married Athina Livanos, daughter of shipping magnate Stavros G. Livanos and Arietta Zafrikakis, on December 28, 1946. Their son, Alexander (April 30, 1948 – 23 January 1973), and daughter Christina (December 11, 1950 – November 19, 1988) after whom Onassis named his legendary super-yacht, were both born in New York City.
To Onassis his marriage to Athina was more than the fulfillment of his ambitions. He also felt that the marriage dealt a blow to his father-in-law and the old-money Greek traditionalists who held Onassis in very low esteem.
Despite the fact they were both married, Onassis and opera diva Maria Callas embarked on an affair. They had met in 1957 during a party in Venice promoted by Elsa Maxwell. After this first encounter, Onassis commented to Spyros Skouras: "There [was] just a natural curiosity; after all, we were the most famous Greeks alive in the world."
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy
According to Peter Evans, Onassis offered Mrs. Kennedy US$3 million to replace her Kennedy trust fund, which she would lose because she was remarrying. After Onassis' death, she would receive a settlement of US$26 million; US$150,000 each year for the rest of her life. The whole marital contract was discussed with Ted Kennedy and later reviewed by André Meyer, her financial consultant.
Onassis' daughter Christina made clear that she disliked Jacqueline Kennedy, and after Alexander's death, she convinced Aristotle that Jacqueline had some kind of curse due to John and Robert Kennedy's murders.
During his marriage to Jackie, the couple inhabited six different residences: her 15-room Fifth Ave. apartment in New York City, her horse farm in New Jersey, his Ave. Foch apartment in Paris, his house in Athens, his private island in Greece named Skorpios, and his 325-ft. luxury yacht The Christina.
Death and legacy
Onassis died at age 69, on 15 March 1975 at the American Hospital of Paris in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, of respiratory failure, a complication of the myasthenia gravis that he had been suffering from during the last years of his life. According to his will, his daughter Christina was to inherit 55% of the Onassis fortune while the other 45% was to be used as funds for the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation set up to honor his son Alexander Onassis. This 45% was the share his son Alexander would have inherited had he not died in 1973. Aristotle Onassis, wishing to honour the memory of his son through the establishment of a public benefit foundation, directed in his handwritten will that his fortune should be equally divided between the foundation to be established, which was to bear the name of Alexander S. Onassis, and his daughter Christina on the explicit condition that the two portions would remain independent of each other. Thus, 45% of his fortune went to the Foundation, being the portion that he would have bequeathed to his son Alexander, and the remaining 55% went to his daughter Christina. After Onassis's death the executors of his will, among whom were several of his close colleagues, proceeded to take all the measures necessary to establish the newly constituted Foundation as a legal entity, named the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation.
In implementation of the testator's wishes, the Foundation was established in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, in compliance with whose laws two foundations were established: the Business Foundation, which was to serve purely business purposes, and the Public Benefit Foundation, which was to be for public benefit purposes only. The reason was to keep the business activities of the one separate from the work of the other. The Business Foundation engages in shipping and other business, and its sole beneficiary is the Public Benefit Foundation. In accordance with Onassis's will, the latter spends about 40% of the net annual profits of the Business Foundation, and the remainder is re-invested. Jackie Kennedy Onassis also received her share of the estate, settling for a reported $10,000,000 ($26 million according to other sources), which was negotiated by her brother-in-law Ted Kennedy. (This amount would later grow to several hundred million under the financial stewardship of her companion Maurice Tempelsman.) Christina's share has since passed to her only child Athina, making Athina one of the wealthiest women in the world.
- "Aristotle Socrates Onassis". Britanicca.
- Blyth, Myrna (12 August 2004). "Greek Tragedy, The life of Aristotle Onassis". National Review Online. Archived from the original on 9 March 2009. Retrieved 5 April 2008.
- Smith, Helena, The Guardian, Callas takes centre stage again as exhibition recalls Onassis's life, Retrieved on 5 April 2008.
- Cafarakis, Christian (1972). Ari: O Fabuloso Onassis. Editora Expressão e Cultura.
- Gerald A. Carroll. Project Seek: Onassis, Kennedy, and the Gemstone thesis. Bridger House, 1994, ISBN 978-0-9640104-0-6, p. 50
- Hussein, Waris, Onassis, the richest man in the world (1988), movie for television.
- El fabuloso Onassis – Pesquisa de Livros do Google. Google Books. 1972. Retrieved 26 April 2009.
- Evans, Peter (1986). Ari: The Life and Times of Aristotle Onassis. Summit Books. pp. 58–60. ISBN 0-671-46508-2.
- Evans, Peter (1986). Ari: The Life and Times of Aristotle Onassis. Summit Books. pp. 62–63. ISBN 0-671-46508-2.
- Dimitris Liberopoulos, personal biographer of Aristotle Onassis
- National Security Council (1954). "US Objectives and Policies with respect to the Near East". The National Security Archive. p. 6. Archived from the original on December 13, 2002. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
- Evans, Peter (1986). Ari: The Life and Times of Aristotle Onassis. Summit Books. p. 262. ISBN 0-671-46508-2.
- "Government of Greece under Prime Minister Georgios Papadopoulos 13 Dec 1967 to 26 Aug 1971". Elisa.net. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
- Evans, Peter (1986). Ari: The Life and Times of Aristotle Onassis. Summit Books. p. 113. ISBN 0-671-46508-2.
- "Video Biography of Aristotles Onassis". Thebiographychannel.co.uk. 11 August 2008. Retrieved 26 April 2009.
- Cheslow, Jerry. "If You're Thinking of Living In/Peapack and Gladstone; Fox-Hunting and High-Priced Homes", The New York Times, 7 August 1994. Retrieved 21 March 2011. "She does have a story about Aristotle Onassis, who rented a home in neighboring Bernardsville with his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis."
- "Onassis, Aristotle". Findarticles.com. 2003. Retrieved 26 April 2009.
- Ōnasēs, prōtoporos tēs nautilia/Onassis: Pioneer in Shipping, by George M. Foustanos, 2006. ISBN 960-89400-0-1. Greek and English on opposite pages.
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- Aristotle Onassis: The Golden Greek (documentary on the life of Onassis, in english language with greek subtitles)
- FBI file on Aristotle Onassis
- Onassis: The Richest Man in the World at imdb.com