A billionaire art collector shot dead on her doorstep. Her stepson – a disgraced spy – arrested on suspicion of her murder. And an 88-year-old noble and philanthropist left in shock at the brutal death of his wife of 24 years.
Baroness Myriam Ullens, originally a cake-maker from Cologne, lived an extraordinary life, falling in love with a married nobleman, brushing shoulders with the world’s royals and funding passion projects around the world.
She was executed in front of her house on Wednesday, shot four times in the head, reportedly after an argument with her stepson over ‘squandering his billionaire father’s money’.
Reports say Nicolas, 57, ambushed Myriam and her husband, ramming them in their car as they left the family estate and firing multiple shots in their direction. The next day, he walked into a police station, handed over a handgun and told police he had shot his stepmother.
‘Mimi devastated the family,’ was the initial reaction of Nicolas’ sister, Brigitte, after the killing. ‘She wanted everything for herself. We weren’t even allowed to see dad any more.’
‘Only one thing mattered to Myriam: she wanted the family fortune for herself.’
MailOnline looks at the life of the woman at the heart of the family feud.
‘Mimi’ Ullens de Schooten is today known as a luxury fashion designer, philanthropist and prominent art collector.
Through her marriage to her husband, she became affiliated by name with centuries of Dutch nobility dating back to King Charles II of Spain. The family overlaps with the Swedish nobility and, by extension, many of those across Scandinavia.
Guy, her husband, was appointed as officer of the Legion d’honneur in France, and awarded the Commander of the Order of Leopold II in Belgium.
The couple enjoyed the company of King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium at their Swiss chalet for skiing holidays. The royals even wore Mimi’s brand on official state visits to China.
In 2013, Myriam partnered with the royal resident Clarence House and split the profits of a portrait of King Charles (then the Prince of Wales) to support their philanthropic ambitions.
This was not always so.
Myriam Lechien was born to a Belgian army officer in Cologne in 1952, the year the East German government closed the border with West Germany. At 18, she moved back to Belgium to finish her studies before promptly marrying and having two children at 21 and 24. She was entrepreneurial and opened a small restaurant on the famous Avenue Louise thoroughfare in southern Brussels, before closing to raise her children.
Myriam never gave up hopes of owning her own business and, once able, began making cakes at home to sell. She did well and the house soon filled up. Myriam expanded her empire, hiring a team and moving operations to a workshop.
It was around here, in 1991, she met her future husband, the Baron and son of a Belgian diplomat Guy Ullens. Ullens was immediately smitten with his ‘queen of pastry’ – but it would be another eight years before he could settle the divorce to his first wife and marry her.
After 44 years of marriage and four children with Micheline Franckx, the Baron followed his heart and married Myriam Lechien in 1999.
Myriam first visited Nepal in 1990, amid a revolution that resulted in violent clashes with the authorities, the arrest of journalists and the torture of peaceful protestors. The nation suffered from food shortages as trade deals failed. International support was marginal. Many were locked up and forgotten about in the process.
In this environment she saw the opportunity to help people. Her visits to Nepal started before she met Guy, but the two found a common interest and Ullens would come to use his influence to fund large scale projects in aid of malnourished children, suffering disease and left in run-down institutions when their mothers were locked up.
In 1996, Myriam – with help from a social worker – rented a house and set up an orphanage. Parents could visit their children during holidays and weekends, and the team ensured all received a good quality of education and skills for later employment. Soon after, they opened a second, and then a third. Today, the centers look after some 10,000 children.
Myriam finally married Guy in 1999 and settled in Verbier, Switzerland. It was the same year he, as CEO of Artal Group, oversaw the $735mn buyout of Weight Watchers. The company sold stocks and earned $3.8bn while retaining the majority share. It was dubbed ‘the private equity deal of the century’. A year later, he retired to focus on charity work with his wife.
Over the years, reports say, the baroness and her stepson Nicolas would clash over disputes of inheritance. The children from the first marriage watched as their father travelled the world with Myriam building schools, funding cancer research and organising art events. Per Global Citizen, the ‘power couple’ would fly from ‘Brussels to Beijing, from Paris to Verbier… or to the Maldives, where they like to spend time in the winter on their magnificent sailing yacht.’
Not all fell out with Myriam, though. Ullens, using refined cashmere and taking inspiration from her experiences in the east, worked with her granddaughter, Laurence, to build a capsule collection for women called Maison Ullens later on. She was a popular socialite and endlessly generous towards her causes.
Myriam was tragically forced to step back in 2003. She was diagnosed with cancer and left unable to travel. Guy took over Myriam’s project, overseeing the registration of the Ullens School Foundation in 2006, which became the first and only school in Nepal to run the International Baccalaureate.
Recovering from her experience of cancer, Myriam decided to set up the donation-funded Mimi Foundation in 2004 to provide support for sufferers, offering access to different forms of therapy for tens of thousands of people per year.
‘People need love during chemo,’ Mimi reflected in a 2016 interview.
Her fashion brand Maison Ullens said in a statement this week: ‘After battling cancer in 2003, she developed the Mimi Ullens Foundation, a foundation active in cancer research and support for patients in eight French, Belgian and Swiss hospitals.
‘Mimi constantly reminded us that the most important thing is to be thankful for life every day. This is how she would like everyone to remember her.’
Funded by donations and selling off artwork, this was an expensive project. Myriam once said her goal was to make enough money from her luxury fashion brand to pay the expenses of the Mimi Foundation. But according to local media, Ullens’ €3 billion fortune from 2011 was in decline.
As Guy had taken an active interest in Myriam’s Nepalese projects, Myriam too took interest in Guy’s. Guy had collected art since the 1960s, but it would balloon to an estimated value of more than two billion euros after they founded the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art not-for-profit art center in 2007.
The couple were described by Art Review as ‘perhaps the most prominent and dedicated Western collectors of Chinese contemporary art’, helping boost the profile of modern Chinese artists in Europe. They ranked on the annual Top 200 Collectors list between 2008 and 2015, and amassed over 2,000 artworks together.
Myriam was the face of the couple when auctioning off a commissioned painting of the then-Prince of Wales by contemporary Chinese artist Yan Pei-Ming in 2013, valued at £300,000. Proceeds were split between the Prince’s Drawing School and The Mimi Foundation.
The portrait, officially approved by the King, was auctioned along with donations from 38 leading artists from all over the world including Tracey Emin and Antony Gormley, raising hundreds of thousands for the foundation.
These numbers continued to grow. One school became three. A class of children became a village, and then ten thousand. Six hospitals opened, and Myriam announced plans to expand the Mimi Foundation to new geographies, reaching 20,000 people per year up from 15,000 in 2012. Artworks saved up over a lifetime were lent out to museums or donated for charity purposes.
According to public records, Myriam and Guy did not have children together. Guy had four children with his first wife. Myriam has two with her first husband.
But in the background of this romantic story, the heirs of the Ullens fortune remained.
Nicolas Ullens is married to the aristocrat and designer Marie-Sophie de Halleux. He worked for Belgium as counter-espionage spy, but was disgraced for making allegations of corruption and money laundering against former Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders.
The security service raided his house to recover stolen secret files used to prop up the accusations.
For years, it has been reported, he argued with Myriam and his father over inheritance, fearing it was being spent on Mimi’s personal projects.
These were concerns echoed by his sister, Brigitte, who said the children could no longer see their father.
She said her brother finally snapped when it emerged the Baroness had plans to sell the family home.
‘She had just put the house up for sale. What was she going to do with the money? I don’t know, but I guess she would have kept it for herself.’
And then, on Thursday at 11am, Nicolas Ullens reported to La Mazarine police in Brussels to surrender himself.
The prosecution said the shooter ‘offered no resistance and explained that he had killed his mother-in-law.’
He was charged with murder and weapons offences.
Blame liberal’s ADDICTIONS !!! … not the gun…