Sept. 23 (Bloomberg) — Billionaire Frank Lowy, Holocaust survivor, one-time Israeli commando and now the world’s biggest shopping mall landlord, raises his hand to his forehead to indicate a shrapnel scar hidden beneath a shock of white hair.
As a 13-year-old Jewish boy in Nazi-occupied Budapest during World War II, Lowy supported his mother by foraging for food after his father was deported to Auschwitz and beaten to death by a camp guard.
He got the head wound helping Israel fight for independence from 1947 to ’49 after he’d joined the exodus to Palestine.
Lowy carries inner scars as well.
“All those events shaped my life,” says the founder and chairman of Westfield Group, owner of 118 malls stretching from Century City in Los Angeles to Bondi Junction in Australia as he sits in his headquarters overlooking Sydney Harbor. “It’s a requirement here to have some sort of paranoia. You have to think of what can go wrong even when times are good. So you can never enjoy your success fully.”
Six decades later, Lowy, 77, is sharpening his survival instincts once again. After selling properties and cutting debt to insulate his empire and its 63 billion Australian dollars ($51 billion) in assets against the global real estate slump and what’s become a financial crisis on Wall Street, he’s embroiled in his third bout in 16 years with tax authorities.
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service and the Australian Taxation Office, or ATO, are investigating claims he hid $68 million from tax officials.