Robert Maxwell's media empire was already tottering. Now comes the disclosure that the late tycoon may have siphoned more than $1 billion from his two publicly traded companies and their pension funds to prop up his private holdings. That may be the last straw: On Dec. 3, sons Kevin and Ian Maxwell resigned as chairmen of Maxwell Communication and Mirror Group, respectively, while British fraud officials investigate.

Bankers seemed likely to force key Maxwell companies into bankruptcy, which could lead to the sale of assets such as book publisher Macmillan and the New York Daily News. Maxwell's banks are already struggling to recover loans they made to his web of public and private holdings.

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