Fugitive businessman Christopher Skase, who briefly owned MGM and during the 1980s held Seven Network among other high-profile media properties, died Monday Aug. 6 at age 53 from lung cancer while in exile on the Spanish island Majorca after being on the lam for a decade from Australia, where he was wanted on 60 criminal charges.
Those charges related to the $A1.5 billion ($750 million) collapse in 1989 of his Qintex media and Mirage Resorts empire.
The Melbourne-born former financial journalist and stockbroker acquired the Seven Network during the 1980s. With socialite wife Pixie, he became as famous for flamboyant parties and lifestyle as he was for business acquisitions.
In 1980s style, he bankrolled expansion through extensive loans and in just a few short years controlled 51% of Hawaii’s Princeville Resort, 51% of Queensland’s two Mirage resorts and Queensland’s Sunshine TV Network. Then in 1989 a $750 million bid for MGM/UA unraveled when Skase defaulted on the first $25 million payment. His empire began to crumble, and the watchdog Australian Securities Commission commenced investigations into his business dealings — including his $20 million management fees.
Lawrence van der Plaat, a former Skase aide and boyfriend to one of Pixie’s four daughters, has since alleged to the ASC how the entrepreneur siphoned money and stole lavish furnishings from Quintex before his escape to Spain. Authorities have been unsuccessful in recovering any money or firmly tracing it to Skase, who publicly maintained that he lived a simple life in Spain at the behest of generous friends.
Skase was, however, credited with reversing the fortunes of a then-ailing Network Seven, now Australia’s close-ranked second web. He reacquired rights to AFL football and kick-started teen soap “Home and Away,” which is still in production. His Mirage resorts are still operating.
But for a decade he avoided extradition from Spain by citing a range of illnesses — bad back, chronic lung complications, diarrhea, even Asian flu. He traveled Majorca in a wheelchair and wore an oxygen mask — but was at various intervals observed swimming and playing tennis — which raised the ire of creditors back home and fueled the Australian government’s determination to pursue his extradition.