The ultra-Orthodox Jewish brothers Ralph and Albert Reichmann made all the richest of the rich lists after escaping Austria and the horrors of the Holocaust on the eve of World War II to become among the most prominent Jewish businessmen in all of North America.
They were the billionaire commercial real estate developers behind London’s Canary Wharf, the World Financial Center in New York City and other iconic developments in Boston, Chicago, their adopted hometown of Toronto and elsewhere. Their developments transformed cityscapes around the world. Now 86-year-old Ralph is suing 91-year-old Albert in previously unreported litigation in Ontario Superior Court.
This comes after Ralph was sued by his son, Abraham Reichmann, for shareholder oppression and seeking disclosure for allegedly millions of dollars in unaccounted trust assets. A judge found oppression in that Ralph made payments to himself and to other shareholders of his choosing and found ways to purposely avoid paying Abraham, according to court documents.
The family’s big business, Olympia & York Developments Ltd., was called “the greatest property development company in Western history.”
So much so that then-Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally pitched the brothers on projects. In fact, it was Thatcher who proposed Canary Wharf in the late 1980s, when Fortune Magazine reported their wealth rivaled Queen Elizabeth II.
At one point the Reichmanns orchestrated a multibillion-dollar takeover of oil company Gulf Canada from Chevron Corp. Then came the commercial real estate crash of the early 1990s. By 1992, they were a victim of their own success when Olympia & York went bankrupt.
Before bankruptcy, the brothers, together with a now-deceased sibling and their holdings, were valued at $30 billion in 1991 U.S. dollars by the Chicago Tribune. For Canary Wharf, The Economist called them the “saviour of [London’s] docklands.” In their day, they were the largest owners of New York City real estate. The once-venerable Newsweek said, “Donald Trump was chopped liver when compared with the Reichmann brothers.” At the time, The Washington Post said they made the now-president of the United States “seem puny and crass.” Talk about accolades.
The Reichmanns eventually recovered some of their wealth in part through real estate acquisitions and owning Canada’s largest tile company, which back in the day was the family’s first foray into the world of business. Interestingly, the post-bankruptcy re-emergence also involved controversial left-wing financier and speculator George Soros. By 2018, their net worth was pegged at Canadian $2.3 billion — good enough for a spot of the 100 richest Canadians list.
But the complex web of bizarre and complicated lawsuits overshadows their rise, fall and rebirth.
The litigation between Ralph and Albert is moving so slow it is as if one brother is waiting for the other to die, a distinct possibility given their ages. More remarkable is how all this tabloid sensationalism has stayed out of the tabloids.
Yet, beyond one billionaire brother suing another billionaire brother is an incredibly sad and tragic story. They are both at a point in life when they should be happily retired and grateful for having lived such a long and prosperous life. After all, most people can only dream of the kind of wealth and accomplishments the Reichmanns have known.
It also serves as an unfortunate end to an otherwise remarkable story of immigrants achieving the kind of prosperity that countless others have sought on these shores.
• Dennis Lennox is a freelance writer and political commentator. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.