Fortune stolen from under heiress's nose

Trusted adviser allegedly took most of R690m inheritance

Dec 18, 2010 7:52 PM

Heiress Patricia Cavendish O'Neill lived a "fairy-tale" life - until she discovered that her $100-million (R690-million) inheritance had been stolen from right under her nose

SWINDLED: British aristocrat Patricia Cavendish O'Neill surrounded by her umpteen animals at Broadlands Farm, in Somerset West.

The British aristocrat, who has lived in the Western Cape's wealthy Somerset West's farming community for more than 30 years, had most of her wealth invested in the UK.

This week, in an exclusive interview, Cavendish O'Neill, 85, who can barely remember dates of events, told the Sunday Times she was devastated to find out she was almost broke.

A trusted financial adviser in the UK is believed to have cleaned out her investments and bank accounts.
Canvendish O'Neill, whose family regularly entertained Monaco's Princess Grace, former US president John F Kennedy, fashion icon Coco Chanel and billionaire John Paul Getty, says she now has only R1-million to her name.
"I was accustomed to a lavish lifestyle. I didn't have to worry about money. Whatever I wanted then I got. If I wanted a new car I'd get a new car. But things have changed," she said.

She revealed this week that:

Cape Town billionaire and wine producer Graham Beck, who died in London on July 27, had supported her financially since discovering that her fortune was missing;

Several pieces of her family's jewellery, which included diamond rings, pendants and pearl necklaces, were auctioned last month for R180000;

Her picturesque Broadlands Stud and Farm in Somerset West was recently sold to a property developer for R12-million, most of which is believed to have paid off her debts; and

Another auction is being scheduled to sell off other priceless 16th-century antiques. "The money raised from the auction will be used to care for my animals," she said. Her Somerset West farm is home to her 30 dogs, 11 cats and chimpanzee Kalu.

British, Australian and US newspapers in 2001 reported how the eccentric heiress had drawn up a will leaving Kalu a staggering $40-million inheritance.

A portion of her wealth was also to be shared among other animals which then included 32 baboons, 65 dogs, 14 cats, a donkey, goats, pigs and horses.

Cavendish O'Neill's reclusive life today is a far cry from her earlier years when her family owned a private train, a fleet of yachts and aircraft. Their villa, Fiorentina, in the south of France, was frequented by guests such as American actor Fred Astaire and singer Frank Sinatra.

She said her mother, Enid Lindeman - a socialite who married two billionaires, including Viscount Furness - left her "a huge sum of money" in the 1970s.

"During my mother's time I never handled money. I had a financial adviser who handled the money after my mother died. I'm a woman who really does not know much about money. I'm not good with dates and figures."

It's believed that her $100-million fortune was taken in small portions over the years.

"The sad thing is there was practically nothing left when I eventually discovered what was happening."

Cavendish O'Neill only realised that her wealth was gone when her brother, Lord Caryll Waterpark, who lives in the UK, was alerted by the family's attorneys in London, who noticed discrepancies in her accounts.

"My brother got auditors to investigate. They were here (in South Africa) for about a month trying to find out where the money was. What happened to me was unbelievable."

However, she has never laid criminal charges against the financial adviser and declined to name the person believed to have stolen her wealth.

The Sunday Times this week could not establish whether her family in the UK had launched an investigation.

The financial adviser is one of many believed to have taken advantage of her lack of knowledge about finances. She said people whom she considered "friends" had made her take out a bond on the farm and disappeared with the substantial amount of cash.

Beck, founder of Graham Beck wines, stepped in and took over her bond's interest repayments until she eventually s
old the farm.

"One of the conditions (of the sale) was that I could live in the house with my animals for the rest of my life."

Other friends had helped her keep going, and proceeds from her best-selling autobiography, A Lion in the Bedroom , also help her financially.

She has now drawn up a new will and will leave what money she has left to her animals.

"I don't how much will be left when I die. I don't want to spend much money because I am determined that my animals are cared for," she said.


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