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Fugitive philanthropist spends time fishing, writing in Cuba

The Associated Press
4/25/2004, 3:15 p.m. ET

HAVANA (AP) — A multimillionaire fugitive wanted on federal tax charges is spending his time fishing for marlin, writing and puffing on cigars in Cuba, according to a published report.

"I'm an old man," Herbert Axelrod told The Sunday Star-Ledger of Newark during an interview at his Havana bungalow, where he fled from federal tax charges in New Jersey last week. "I worked hard all my life and I want to relax."

A federal fugitive warrant has been issued for Axelrod, 76, on charges he conspired to defraud the IRS by helping a former executive of his pet book publishing company hide $700,000 in bonus payments in a Swiss bank account between 1990 and 1996.

Cuba's foreign minister last week denied knowing anything about Axelrod and said the island is not a haven for those fleeing justice.

"Cuba has never been a refuge for those fleeing justice," Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told international journalists.

On Friday, a talkative, kimono-clad Axelrod spoke with visitors for two hours at his one-bedroom bungalow in the Villa Paraiso section of Hemingway Marina. He said he had been going there for 25 years.

Axelrod is spending some of this time working on new pet-care books. Photographs of hamsters and notes on geckos and snakes rested on his wooden kitchen table.

He said his wife, Evelyn, calls him with news every day, but declined to say from where she called.

Axelrod, a former Deal resident, said he was unfairly being targeted by the government, couldn't believe the turn his life had taken, and wondered about eventually returning to New Jersey.

"Here I am and I don't know if Cuba's going to want me here — turn me over or send me away," he said.

He said he was the focus of prosecutors because he's rich. "I'm a tycoon. And they're coming after the tycoons now," he said.

The charges against Axelrod are unrelated to an unusual deal last year in which he sold the so-called Golden Age Collection of 30 violins, violas and cellos crafted by legendary luthiers Antonio Stradivari, Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu and others during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The orchestra characterized the transaction as a gift. The selling price was listed at $18 million — including $4 million that was financed by Axelrod himself and later forgiven — well below the $50 million at which Axelrod valued the collection.

___

Information from: The Star-Ledger

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