Spanning 74 acres in the Ionian Sea, Skorpios sits off the west coast of mainland Greece. Aristotle Onassis purchased the barren isle for less than $20,000 in 1963. The shipping scion piped in utilities, imported sand, planted forests, and built a family compound that includes three residences, a helicopter pad and a boat quay.
The Island of Skorpios was bought by Onassis in 1962, believed to have cost just 3.5 million drachmas, the equivalent of about £10,000. Six years later it hosted his wedding to Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of the late President John F Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963.
After his death Skorpios passed to his daughter Christina, who died of a heart attack aged 37 in 1988, and then to Athina the daughter of Christina Onassis.
Athina came into her wealth at the age of 21. Her fabled fortune included hundreds of priceless works of art, a fleet of ships, properties and companies spanning three continents.
If she wanted to, she could dip into her 217 bank accounts to pay off the debts of most third world countries and still live comfortably. Although once known as the "poor little rich girl", the heir in recent years has also sold off a considerable number of Greek assets. To the surprise of friends and family, she recently auctioned the entire collection of her mother's jewellery and a plot of land on the Athenian Riviera where the dynasty's ancestral home once stood.
"In one sense she has been a true Onassis in being totally unsentimental about financial matters," said Mantheakis. "From what I know, all her cash is still in a trust formed by her father, which may also explain why she is selling assets."
While partly attributed to the Greek crisis, her decision to distance herself from her roots may also have as much to do with the notoriously bad relations she has with officials who run the Onassis Foundation – the other half of her grandfather's legendary estate in Athens.
A charitable organisation bequeathed by the shipowner to commemorate his son Alexandros, who died in a plane crash, the foundation cut ties with Athina after its board of trustees criticised her lack of spoken Greek and poor knowledge of the country and its customs. She was raised speaking Swedish to her stepmother and French to her father Roussel, the heir to a pharmaceutical empire.
For several days already, Skorpios – the small island in the Ionian Sea, widely known as "the island of Onassis," no longer belongs to the heiress of the legendary Greek dynasty. Along with it, Athina Onassis has sold part of the family history too, which the new owner is unlikely to ignore. Her name is Ekaterina Rybolovleva - Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev’s daughter, aged 24.
For many years, various sources had claimed that the only heiress of Aristotle Onassis had been looking for a buyer for the island. Residents of the island of Lefkada, where the majority of the members of the maintenance personnel are, claim too that Athina has not visited Skorpios for many years. The island was deserted and unusually silent compared to the bustle during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and it was only a shadow of its former greatness. Only tourist visits reminded that world-renowned persons as the two most important women in Onassis’ life – Maria Callas and Jacqueline Kennedy – had spent their holidays and had fun there. Of course, the tourists could not go ashore – they were only allowed to approach it at a distance of a few dozen metres by ship or boat.
The rumours that the island of Skorpios became Russian ownership were confirmed a few days ago. The official communication of Dmitry Rybolovlev’s family, which was published in the British newspaper The Independent states, "A company belonging to a trust acting in the interest of Ekaterina Rybolovleva has completed the purchase of a group of companies formerly ultimately owned by Mrs Athina Onassis. Amongst the assets of this group of companies are the islands of Skorpios and Sparti." According to the text, the new owner intends to improve Skorpios and the tiny island of Sparti by "using environmentally friendly technology." Along with the islands, the family of the Russian oligarch has bought a property with an area of 2 acres in the centre of Nidri on the island of Lefkada, another property with an area of 6 acres in Palero which provides soil for the plants of Skorpios as well as a system of four water wells that supply water to the island.
So far, the ownership of Skorpios in the land register in Lefkada has not been changed. Legal sources say that this might not happen at all, since the transfer was made to circumvent the will of Aristotle Onassis, in which he prohibits the sale of the island. For several days already, there have been trucks on Skorpios transporting items from the time when the Greek millionaire lived on the island. According to sources, most of them are old building materials that had remained stored for years. The cleaning operation started in the middle of November last year. "Those are old materials, rusty tanks and machines that are out of order. During these months, about 4 or 6 trucks have taken away from Skorpios old machines, air conditioners, refrigerators and other outdated items. Some of the trucks were covered, but there is no confirmation that other items have been transported," George Gavrilis, restaurant owner from the opposite island of Meganissi, told Ethnos newspaper. He and other residents state that the mobilization is unusual for Skorpios, where life has almost completely faded away over the past 10 years.
Some of the residents of the region, who have lived with the myth of Onassis for more than half a century now, do not approve of the news of the sale of the island. The future of the 15 members of the maintenance personnel, many of whom are to retire soon, is unclear too. So far, everyone is expecting the end of the complex legal procedures in Cyprus, Brussels, Geneva and Luxembourg and the final passage of the island into the hands of Ekaterina Rybolovleva. "The people expect the island to come back to life again. In Nidri, we were used to receiving rich and famous people and to the continuous sailing of ships and yachts. It will be much better if the new owner decides to invest in Skorpios in this difficult time," said Deputy Mayor of Lefkada, Thassos Gazis.
"We all expect to see what the future of the island will be. We all expect to benefit from this," said Gerasimos Stavrakas, restaurant owner from Nidri, who had once worked at Onassis’ legendary yacht "Christina". He remembers how he had walked with Aristotle along the coastal street in Nidri in the sleepless nights, barefoot as sailors.
"I was talking with Onassis as if we were friends. He was a very special person and he was always friendly. We would like the people from his family to be like before but unfortunately, it is impossible."
A company belonging to a trust acting in the interest of Ekaterina Rybolovleva has completed the purchase of a group of companies formerly ultimately owned by Mrs Athina Onassis. Amongst the assets of this group of companies are the islands of Scorpios and Sparti. Ekaterina is delighted that the trust has negotiated this purchase. She sees significant potential for further improvement of the islands using environmentally friendly technology and regard the acquisition as a long-term financial investment.”
Farhad Vladi, whose company, Vladi Private Islands, has hundreds of islands on its books, told the paper that while he had not heard of the deal, it was possible Ms Onassis Roussel had decided to sell the island. He said the water comes from a mountain bought by Aristotle Onassis on a nearby island, and that anyone who bought the island would need to buy the mountain also, which he estimated would cost upwards of 100 million euros.
The mayor of the nearby island of Meganisi, Efstathios Zavitsanos, said the deal was likely to be a long-term lease since Aristotle Onassis's will stated that Skorpios could not be sold or leave the family. ‘We have lived with the Onassis legend and it will never fade,’ he said. ‘You see, Aristotle was close to the local society, the fishermen and the residents. He was not just a rich man, he was truly loved.’
It is worth noting that there is a small church on Skorpios, where the graves of Aristotle Onassis and his children - Alexandros and Christina (Athina’s mother) are. According to the testament, the specific area of 30 acres cannot be sold, even if the rest of the island is sold.
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