Aitken arrested as Yard pursues perjury claim

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The Independent Online
NINE MONTHS after the collapse of his High Court libel action, disgraced former cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken was yesterday arrested by police over allegations of perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The former defence procurement minister and Chief Secretary to the Treasury was questioned at Fulham police station, south-west London. He faces a prison sentence if charged and convicted over the offences. His arrest came as the Scotland Yard investigation into the allegations, launched after Mr Aitken was accused of lying during his case against the Guardian and Granada TV, reached its final stages.

In the last 48 hours as well as Mr Aitken, detectives had arrested and questioned his daughter Victoria, aged 17, and his business associate and friend Said Ayas. It is believed officers also want to question Mr Aitken's wife Lolicia and his mother-in-law, Nada Azucki.

In a day of drama Mr Aitken said on his return to his Westminster home in a terse statement: " I can confirm that I, this morning, voluntarily attended an interview with the police in connection with the allegations made against me and my daughter by the editor of the Guardian.

"At the end of the interview I was released on unconditional bail. On legal advice that is all I am saying at the present time. I can make no further comment". He refused to answer any questions before disappearing inside.

But a member of Mr Aitken's family told the Independent: "Jonathan has tremendous inner strength, and he is bearing up very well under the circumstances. We all realise, of course, that perjury is a very serious allegation, and no one is taking in lightly. This has brought the family together, and we are pulling together. Victoria was not all that upset by what happened, she knew what to expect. This thing will go on and on. But it has to be faced. Things were said at the trial which were said to be untrue, and one has to face the consequences. I do not know where Lolicia is, and frankly I do not want to know."

The police investigation led by Detective Superintendent Geoff Hunt of the Yard's Organised Crimes Group, has been acting in liaison with the Crown Prosecution Service. Officers have collected evidence in France and Switzerland as well as this country.

Mr Aitken had begun his defamation proceedings with a speech in which he vowed to "cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play". He withdrew after 12 days when the defence produced evidence that contradicted his version of events over a stay at the Ritz hotel in Paris.

The former minister had claimed that he went to Paris to meet his wife and daughter who was about to start school in Geneva. Lolicia and Victoria both signed witness statement supporting this account. However the defendants were able to turn up documentation that showed Mrs Aitken and her daughter had flown straight from London to Geneva. Before the case collapsed Lolicia and Victoria were due to give evidence on behalf of Mr Aitken. On the day the legal action was withdrawn it was also announced that Mr Aitken and his wife were splitting up.

Mr Aitken who is facing a pounds 1.8m legal bill, is in the process of selling his home in Sandwich. He has also been given a consultancy post by the multinational GEC Marconi to help it sell " telecommunications equipment" to the Middle East.

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