Männil Harry

Publié le par Mémoires de Guerre

Harry Männil (May 17, 1920 – January 11, 2010), also known as Harry Mannil Laul, was an Estonian businessman, art collector, and cultural benefactor in several countries. Männil was born in Tallinn, Estonia. As a result of World War II he moved to Venezuela in 1946, where he lived for the rest of his life. He was a successful businessman and part owner of ACO Group, a large Venezuelan conglomerate. He formed his own company Grupo Oriand in 1994.

At the time of the restoration of Estonian independence, Männil got involved in Estonian matters, actively interacting with politicians Vaino Väljas and Edgar Savisaar, and acting as an advisor during latter's prime minister term. Harry Männil was an active art collector and philanthropist, especially noted for his collection of pre-Columbian art. His art related activities included serving as director of Caracas Athenaeum in Venezuela, and as advisor for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He also founded Eduard Wiiralt Gallery in Estonian National Library. 

Männil Harry
Männil Harry

Early life (1920–1946)

Harry Männil was born into an iron salesman's family on May 17, 1920, in Tallinn, Estonia, and spent his childhood in Pääsküla, Tallinn. He graduated from the Gustav Adolf Grammar School in 1938 and from 1939–40 studied economics at the University of Tartu and the Tallinn University of Technology. In the summer of 1941, during the Soviet occupation, he hid in a forest to avoid the mobilization. Männil joined the political police of the Estonian Self-Administration as an assistant in September 1941. He held the position until June 10, 1942, when he was fired for unknown reasons. This period of collaboration with the Nazi government would later lead to Männil being accused of war crimes. After being relieved, Männil continued his studies at the University of Tartu. In October 1943 he escaped to Finland when the German Security Service began to consider him politically dangerous as a student leader at the university. 

In Finland he studied business management in Helsinki. Männil was accused by a local police official of illegal trade in gold and valuables brought to Finland by Estonian refugees. These claims were, however, denied by Männil. Männil moved to Sweden in September 1944 with the intention of continuing his studies. He stayed at a refugee camp for a short while. Soon he received a residence permit to live in Stockholm and a working permit that allowed him to take a job at an archive. In November 1944, a complaint regarding Männil's Nazi involvement was filed at the Swedish Commission of Foreigners, and he was investigated by the Sandler Commission. The relative ease with which Männil received his work and residence permits raised the suspicions of the local authorities. In September 1945, he was fired from his job at the request of the Commission of Foreigners. A month later, an extension to his residence permit was declined. Männil was allowed to stay in Stockholm to make preparations for his emigration to Venezuela, and an extension was granted on his residence permit a short while later. After Männil was denied a transit visa to Britain, the Swedish authorities pressured him to leave the country.

In Venezuela (1946–2010)

When Männil arrived in Maracaibo, Venezuela, in February 1946, he described himself as "penniless". He had traveled there under an employment contract to work for the enterprise headed by Juan Mendiri in Maracaibo and which later became part of BECO. He joined BECO, a department store founded in 1942 and owned by Blohms, a family of German descent. Beco was bought out by a group of investors headed by Arnold Orav together with Juan Simon Mendoza (co-founder of Venezuela's largest business empire, the Polar Group), and a couple of other Estonians, who, like Männil, were members of the academic corporation Vironia. Arnold Carl Orav, Chmn, split from BECO in 1951 to form ACO Group, a company that would eventually control over one-sixth of Venezuela's automotive trade. Männil received Venezuelan citizenship in 1952. Männil assumed the title of Chmn, in addition to CEO of the ACO Group, It emerged in the 1970s as the world's largest tractor dealership as the dealer for John Deere Tractors in Venezuela. 

It also became the largest automobile dealership in South America, according to the Ford Motors Company (USA). A significant contributor to the success of the Aco Group was the innovative introduction in Venezuela of in-house auto sale financing using a captive finance company. In 1983, the Aco Group was ranked fifth largest private-sector company in Venezuela [El Universal]. A progressive downturn in Venezuela's economy which had particular adverse on Aco's capital intensive businesses, resulted in a reorganization in 1994 under new leadership. Mannil was voted out as CEO so he left ACO and formed Oriand, with a portion of auto dealerships that had been part of Aco. At that time he had been the fourth largest shareholder, owning 20% of the company. Männil continued to own Oriand Grupo Oriand, until his death. Männil was member of AEI World Forum, founded by president Gerald Ford whom Männil personally knew.

In 1990, Männil visited Estonia for the first time since 1943 at the invitation of Vaino Väljas, who he had met when Väljas was the Soviet ambassador to Venezuela. At the time of the restoration of Estonian independence (1990–1992), during the governments of Edgar Savisaar and Tiit Vähi, Männil was the president of the Prime Minister's Economy Friends Club. The club consisted of Estonian businessmen living abroad who gave economic advice and helped to explain Estonia's situation to Western nations. Männil was a godfather of Savisaar's daughter. Near the end of 2002, Männil was forced to temporarily relocate to Costa Rica due to the Venezuelan general strike. Männil's sons succeeded him when he retired from active business dealings in 2003. Harry Männil died on January 11, 2010, in San José, Costa Rica. His ashes were placed in a chapel on his ranch located in the mountains of Costa Rica.

Art collecting and work as a cultural benefactor

Männil was known as an art collector and cultural benefactor in several countries. His interest in art collecting first arose when he came into the possession of some works by Eduard Wiiralt during World War II. Männil started collecting pre-Columbian art in 1957, and eventually owned the largest private collection in Venezuela. His collection was regarded as among the 200 most important private collections by ARTnews magazine in 1997. Männil classified his art collection into three main groups: pre-Columbian art, modern Latin American art, and art of the South American Indigenous people. He also possessed a few items of 17th–18th century colonial art. Männil, together with his wife, promoted the commercial production and marketing of the textile works of the Guajiro Indians. These two interests led to conflicts with local anthropologists, who criticized their relationship with the Guajiro people and their means of building their archaeological collection.

On July 22, 2010, after Harry Männil's death, Costa Rican authorities raided his house in Heredia and seized 108 pieces of pre-Columbian art, including fourteen large stone spheres. The family had been given two deadlines to hand over the objects voluntarily, and since that did not happen, a raid was conducted. Officials stated that the pieces had been obtained through an illegal purchase which had broken a law against trafficking in archaeological artifacts. The objects were taken to the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica in San José. Harry Männil was the founder and first director of the West Venezuela Water Sport Federation, and had been the director of Caracas Athenaeum in Caracas and the Maracaibo Art Center. He was a member of the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Männil, together with Henry Radeval, contributed to the establishment of the Estonian National Library's Eduard Wiiralt gallery and founded the Eduard Wiiralt Art Award in 1998. Estonian writer Olev Remsu has published a biography of Harry Männil titled Elitaarne mees (Tänapäev 2011). 


From 1968 until his death Männil was a Knight of Malta. He was an honorary citizen of the city of Thibodaux, Louisiana. The Venezuelan government awarded him the Order of the Star of Carabobo and the Order of Francisco de Miranda. He received the Order of the Polar Star from the King of Sweden.

Personal life

Harry Männil was a brother of geologist Ralf Männil. He married Masula D'Empaire, a granddaughter of commercial tycoon and banker Samuel Belloso, in 1955; they had four children. The Belloso are a prominent family of recent Jewish heritage dating back as commercial traders and bankers in Curacao. Many of the family members converted to become Catholics while others retained their Jewish faith to the present. Männil's primary country of residence was Venezuela, where he lived in Caracas, but he also owned a ranch in Costa Rica, a farm in Llanos, Venezuela, and apartments in Paris and New York. 

Pour être informé des derniers articles, inscrivez vous :
Commenter cet article