By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Seven members of the family of legendary U.S. oilman John Paul Getty — once the richest man in the world — have bought Irish passports under the controversial investment-for-citizenship program that is currently being phased out by the Irish government.
The Gettys will be some of the last of the world’s super-rich to be able buy a passport. They are getting in as part of a backlog of applicants left unprocessed when Justice Minister John O’Donoghue decided to scrap the controversial program.
Getty made his fortune by in the oil industry and was acclaimed as the world’s wealthiest man when he died in 1976.
While he left the bulk of his fortune to the affluent museum and art gallery he established in Malibu, Calif., in 1953, the rest of his huge fortune was distributed among his heirs from five marriages.
The sale of Getty Oil to Texaco was a record corporate deal. It involved $3 billion when completed in 1983.
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The seven Getty heirs are believed to have invested about £7 million here to "buy" Irish naturalization, which automatically allows them residency and free movement throughout the EU.
The first member of the dynasty to take advantage of the passports scheme was Mark Harris Getty, founder of the Getty Images company which is headquartered in Seattle.
A company spokeswomen in London said he had no comment to make on his clan’s purchase of passports or if any more relatives were still seeking Irish nationality.
Mark and Christopher Ronald Getty were granted passports in 1995 and they listed homes they had bought in the Ballsbridge and Dalkey areas of Dublin.
Next to arrive was Tara Getty, who was naturalized in July 1998 and bought a home at Old Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Last March, Gail Harris Getty, Eugene Paul Getty III and Aileen Getty got their passports and gave their address as Gurtalougha House, Ballinderry, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary.
According to the Department of Justice, the latest arrival is Ariadne Getty Williams, giving the same address in Tipperary, who was naturalized on June 29.
Mark, 49, was 23 and had just graduated from Oxford university when his uncle Gordon, who controlled the family trust, decided to sell out to Texaco. The sale divided the family.
He set about convincing his relatives to get part of the family fortune together again in a collective enterprise.
After starting with an investment in ecotourism in South Africa, the Gettys found their new opportunity — applying modern management systems and computer technology to the business of photo libraries.
Getty Images is now the world’s largest photo and visuals provider.
The company was set up the company in 1994 and taken public on the NASDAQ exchange a year later.
It had revenues of $185 million last year and employs 1,600 worldwide with offices in 17 countries. The company has built up more than 30 million photos and about 15,000 hours of film footage.
Among the famous companies bought so far are the BBC picture library, Hulton Deutsch, Britain’s Tony Stone Images, the American Liaison Agency photo-journalist archive, the global Allsport brand, Photo-Disc a leading world royalty-free image provider and the
Australian Picture Library.
The company has revolutionized the business by consolidating a previously fragmented industry, converting pictures to digital computer files and setting up a rapid delivery and sales system.
With the pictures digitized, they can be stored, searched, selected, purchased, downloaded and paid for electronically with computers. Buyers range from the advertising industry to magazines and newspapers.
In addition to buying a house or apartment in Ireland and satisfying residency requirements by living in their new homes for minimum periods, the millionaires like the Gettys moving to Ireland are also required to invest a minimum of £1 million in job-creating industry.
There have been many complaints about the lack of transparency surrounding the scheme and the Department of Justice refuses to provide details of the investments on the basis that it is personal information.
The department also refused to say if there were any more Getty’s in the pipeline for Irish citizenship.