Christina Onassis Takes on Some Heavy Problems with a Little Help from Her Russian Ex-Husband

updated 07/25/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/25/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The legendary Russian winter defeated Napoleon, and years later another foreigner, Christina Onassis, found the Soviet climate equally harsh. Her 1978 marriage in a Moscow wedding palace (the price was $2.15) to Sergei Kauzov, a shipping bureaucrat and member of the Communist Party, ended 17 months later. But time, ships (through her company she has 38; he has two, the 18,000-ton dry-cargo vessel Danila that Christina gave him as a first-anniversary present and a 60,000-ton tanker he picked up in the divorce settlement) and the pleasures of Paris have brought them together again. Christina, 32, and Sergei, 42, now live in separate apartments in the same Paris building and are frequently seen strolling about town. "Isn't this the modern idea of a divorce?" asks Christina's Athens lawyer, Stelios Papidimitriou. "One doesn't quarrel with one's former husbands."

Christina, who has had three (Joseph Bolker, a Los Angeles real estate developer, Alexander Andreadis, a Greek businessman, and Kauzov), could well use the sympathetic shoulder of an ex-spouse. Besides her lifelong and obviously losing battle with weight (one current estimate puts her at 200 pounds), the 5'5" heiress is waging war against the Greek government over taxes due on the estate she inherited from her father, Aristotle Onassis, who died in 1975. At that time Ari's personal property was estimated by the Greek government at $6.5 million. A later estimate set the value at $13 million, and Christina, preferring the first figure to minimize the bite of Greek inheritance taxes, has taken her case to court. Meanwhile the Greek government, claiming Christina's liabilities are really much greater, now insists she owes not only back taxes but a $14 million fine for late payment. Onassis is so outraged that she recently took out an ad in an Athens newspaper denouncing "the unorthodox methods of the tax authorities in my country."

The contretemps has kept Christina from visiting her Ionian island of Skorpios this summer. From Paris, she helps supervise the enterprises of the Monaco-based Olympic Maritime S.A., the company built by her father. That, at least, represents smooth sailing: The world's eighth largest shipping firm (Christina owns 48 percent of the company) made a healthy $25 million or so profit last year.

While Christina muddles through the vicissitudes of being Ari's only heir, Sergei appears to have plenty of time to offer counsel. Friends say he is living solely off the millions Christina bestowed on him as part of the divorce settlement. To Christina-watchers wondering if the two will wed again, one of the heiress's childhood classmates responds: "Who would want to have a used Russian?"

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