23 March 2006 – Parmy Olson Forbes.com
“Sorry” is meant to be one of the hardest words in the English vocabulary to say, but if that makes apologizing to a billionaire near impossible, then the one to ask would surely be the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.
Livingstone seems prone to getting embroiled in high-profile rows: There was the alleged falling out with the boss of London’s subway system, Robert Kiley, who subsequently quit last November. More recently a war with a London newspaper developed after the mayor compared one of its reporters, who is Jewish, to a Nazi concentration camp guard.
With the Olympics now on their way for 2012, might the spirit of all-embracing camaraderie sweep such friction under the carpet? Perhaps not yet, as the mayor’s latest remark about the billionaires David and Simon Reuben makes all too clear. In a press conference which brought up the brothers’ role in the building of London’s $7 billion Olympic City, Livingstone said that the Reubens should “go back to Iran and see if they can do better under the ayatollahs.”
Manners aside, Livingstone’s geography could have done with some brushing up: The Reubens, who rank at No. 185 on our list of The World’s Rich People, were born in Bombay, India and raised in the U.K. The mayor was accusing the brothers of stalling work on the Olympic City by destabalizing the consortium behind it–they hold a 50% stake. The delay, he said, could leave taxpayers with a $1.2 billion bill.
But a spokesman for the Reubens tells us that the mayor’s comments were not only offensive, they were “completely wrong.” “Of all the members of the consortium [the Reuben brothers] are the most committed to following the project through,” he said.
Livingstone now refuses to express regret for his remarks about the billionaires, save this: “I would offer a complete apology to the people of Iran to the suggestion that they may be linked in any way to the Reuben brothers.”