Prince of Wales saddened by death of Greek shipping tycoon

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JOHN Latsis, the flamboyant Greek shipping tycoon, used his enormous wealth to win friends and influence politicians, royalty and the rich.

The Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales sailed on his 75,000-a-day yacht, the 325ft-long Alexander, the third-biggest such vessel in the world, for their second honeymoon.

The controversial billionaire died yesterday at his Athens home with his wife, Marianna, by his side.

Mr Latsis, 93, who had homes in London, Greece and Geneva, Switzerland, was known to guard his privacy closely and rarely appeared in public.

He handed over his estimated 2.8 billion business empire, which included shipping, banks, refineries and construction companies, to his son, Spyro, in 1999. According to Forbes magazine, the family ranked 101st on its list of the world’s richest people in 2003.

"Captain" Latsis, as he liked to be known, was known for his shamelessly well-aimed largesse. When George Papadopoulos staged a military coup in 1967, Mr Latsis handed the junta leader’s wife the keys to his Mercedes. His friendship with the leader continued, despite the regime’s notorious human rights abuses and Papadopoulos, in turn, favoured his business ventures. As soon as Papado-poulos was in jail, Mr Latsis reportedly bought a 12,000 gift for the new president, Constantine Karamanlis.

Controversy has followed him throughout his career. His support for Greece’s brutal military regime in the Seventies led to difficulties for the Conservatives two years ago, when it was revealed he had donated 2 million to the party. He also angered some Greeks by maintaining a close relationship with Greece’s deposed leader, King Constantine.

Prince Charles was a frequent visitor on his yacht and has also taken his companion, Camilla Parker Bowles, on holiday aboard the vessel. The former US president, George Bush Snr, his wife, Barbara, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, the former Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, and actor Marlon Brando have all, at some stage, graced its vast and glittering interior.

Mr Latsis also used his vast fortune for philanthropy, making donations to earthquake victims in Greece, Egypt and Armenia, and founding the Latsis Foundation.

His language was said to be colourful; one rare radio interview was rendered unintelligible after blips had been substituted for the expletives. On another occasion, when asked a hostile question by an interviewer, he replied: "Do you take it up the bum as often as you seem to?"

Born into a poor family in the village of Pyrgos in 1910, Latsis worked as a fisherman before saving enough money to buy a small coastal ferry in his late teens. He began dealing in commodities and, by the Thirties, he was the European representative for United Molasses of Egypt. He acquired an oil refinery in the Sixties as well as the Deposit Bank in Geneva.

Prince Charles spoke of his sadness at his friend’s death. He took Mrs Parker Bowles and his sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, on an 11-day Mediterranean cruise aboard Alexander in August 1999.

A St James’s Palace spokes-woman said: "The Prince of Wales is very sad to hear of the death of John Latsis."