Fraudster, drug trafficker and con man who tried to set up his own state and spent years on the run.
Robert Vesco, whose death in Cuba at the age of 71 has been confirmed by Cuban burial records, was a swashbuckling Wall Street financier and con man whose escapades included looting millions of dollars from a Swiss mutual fund, drug trafficking, money laundering, making an illegal contribution to Richard Nixon's 1972 presidential re-election campaign, attempting to set up his own mini-state in the Caribbean and plotting to bribe US officials to allow Libya to buy American military planes.
Vesco spent a quarter of a century eluding the authorities, finding refuge in Latin America and Caribbean states that lacked extradition treaties with America. For more than a decade he lived a life of luxury in Havana, where he became drinking buddies with leading members of the Castro regime, including the president's brother, Ramon. But it was Cuba that finally put him in prison in 1996, convicting him of fraud after he had double-crossed some of Castro's relatives in a deal for a "wonder drug" called TX, which he claimed could cure cancer and Aids.
Robert Lee Vesco was born in Detroit, Michigan, on December 4 1935 to a mother of Slovenian descent and an Italian father who worked as an assembly-line supervisor for Chrysler. A high school drop-out, Robert married at 17 and had three children by the age of 26. He juggled jobs in the car industry with freelance pursuits: running small-stakes gambling and bingo parlours, as well as a highway bar called the Powder Mill Inn.
But from his earliest years Vesco's guiding ambition had been to "get the hell out of Detroit" and, armed with little more than swagger and a gift for creative name-dropping, he acquired enough capital to purchase controlling interests in machine-parts manufacturers. In 1965 he consolidated these as the International Controls Corporation and embarked on an aggressive programme of hostile takeovers.
Though the company was deeply in debt, by 1968 ICC's portfolio included an airline and several manufacturing plants, and its chairman had become one of the most flamboyant entrepreneurs in America. Tall and craggy-faced, with a moustache, long sideburns and sunglasses, Vesco resembled a mobster from central casting and acted the part, filling his conversation with expletives and jetting from deal to deal in a corporate 707 complete with sauna and discotheque.
In 1970 he launched a successful $5 million takeover bid for the Geneva-based International Overseas Investors, a struggling mutual fund run by the controversial businessman Bernie Cornfeld. Funds from the company immediately began disappearing, but by the time the American financial authorities caught up with him Vesco had decamped to Costa Rica along with his family, his yacht, his private planes and $200 million.
In Costa Rica Vesco passed himself off as a cattle rancher, renounced his American citizenship, and began investing in local businesses, especially the Sociedad Agricola San Cristobal, a company founded by the country's president José Figueres Ferrer, who passed a law to guarantee that Vesco would not be extradited.
In 1973 in the United States he was charged, in his absence, with illegally giving $200,000 to President Nixon's re-election campaign the previous year. The money was allegedly intended to persuade the administration to put pressure on the Securities and Exchange Commission, and was said to have paid for the Watergate burglary. In 1977 Vesco was accused of plotting to pay kickbacks to officials of the Carter administration to win approval for Libya to buy C-130 military planes.
Vesco lived ostentatiously under Figueres's wing for six years. But in 1978 he was obliged to relocate to the Bahamas after a new president took office; three years later he fled again aboard his $1.3 million yacht just before the authorities tried to deport him.
He surfaced on Antigua with a plan to buy half of Barbuda, Antigua's small sister island, and establish a principality called the Sovereign Order of New Aragon. In 1982, after another period of wandering which took him to Nicaragua under the Sandinistas, he fetched up in Cuba.
The Castro government, which accepted him for "humanitarian reasons", was said to be so delighted with its acquisition that it widened a berth in the Hemingway Marina to make room for his yacht and provided him with a high security estate on Cayo Largo, off Cuba's south coast, where he was said to have set up a "special communications centre" with Tony de la Guardia, an official in Cuba's interior ministry. Passing himself off as a Canadian called Tom Adams, Vesco was said to own several properties in Cuba, sent his children to the International School in Havana, and threw lavish parties.
His increasingly corpulent, bearded figure was often seen on heavily-guarded shopping trips to the "dollar stores" in the diplomatic quarter of Miramar. Vesco's value to the Castro regime became apparent in 1983 when US authorities seized shipments of American-made machinery he was trying to smuggle.
It is thought that Vesco's star in Cuba began to wane after he was identified as a co-conspirator in the 1989 trial of the Colombian drug baron Carlos Lehder Rivas, for whom he was alleged to have obtained permission to use Cuban airspace on drug-smuggling flights to the US.
In 1995 Vesco was arrested and there was speculation that Havana might extradite him as part of a strategy to persuade the Clinton administration to lift the economic embargo.
The speculation turned out to be groundless; when he eventually came to trial, Vesco was accused of defrauding a state-run biotechnology laboratory run by Fidel Castro's nephew with a scheme for a "wonder drug" that supposedly offered a cure for cancer, Aids, arthritis and even the common cold.
He was released in 2005. Rumours of his death on November 3 last year now have official confirmation, though there has been speculation that he may have faked his own death in order to elude the authorities yet again.
Vesco was separated from his first wife and lived for many years with a Cuban woman.