NEWS

Onassis heiress Athina comes into fortune in privacy of her family

GENEVA – In a veil of secrecy, the young heiress to half the Onassis shipping fortune celebrated her 18th birthday with a bonus gift – an inheritance estimated at $700 million to $1 billion. Friends of Athina Roussel remained tightlipped, saying her father, Thierry, had given strict instructions that his daughter’s coming of age should be a private, family event. Geneva lawyer Marc Bonnant, who defended Roussel and Onassis in a series of legal battles over her fortune, yesterday refused to say where and how Roussel had celebrated her January 29 birthday. Alexis Mantheakis, a former Roussel family spokesman and author of a book on the heiress, would only say he had called to wish her a happy birthday. No family members were seen by The Associated Press entering the two Roussel homes on the shores of Lake Geneva on Roussel’s birthday, despite rumors of a planned handover of documents concerning her fortune and a big birthday celebration. Staff at both mansions refused to speak to waiting reporters. Bonnant said he did not believe Roussel’s attention was focused on the money. «I think she was probably too busy celebrating her 18th birthday to the full,» he told AP. Athina Roussel, now one of the world’s wealthiest teenagers, is one of the last descendants of Greece’s Onassis dynasty. She rarely gives interviews and appears to cherish privacy as much as her grandfather Aristotle Onassis thrived in the limelight. Aristotle died broken-hearted two years after a 1973 plane crash killed his son Alexander. His other child, Christina, died in 1988, leaving Athina, 3, to be raised in Switzerland by her French-born father and his Swedish wife. Thierry Roussel and Christina had divorced shortly after Athina was born. The teenager’s dazzling wealth reportedly includes gold, art masterpieces, property in France, England, Switzerland and Argentina and the private island of Skorpios, where the family’s «Pink Villa» was lavishly decorated by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the former US first lady and Aristotle’s second wife. On her birthday, Roussel was expected to meet with Swiss authorities and auditors who have overseen the estate since 1999, but officials refused to say whether a meeting had taken place. Management of the estate shifted to KPMG Fides after years of legal bickering between the foundation and Roussel’s father, who even accused the foundation’s Greek trustees of plotting to kidnap his daughter. Bonnant said he believed Roussel would remain level-headed despite having access to the fantastic Onassis fortune. «I like this young lady very much,» he said. «She doesn’t believe she’s some kind of living legend.»