Aitken: fresh business and sex allegations

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JONATHAN Aitken, who resigned last week from his Cabinet post as Treasury Chief Secretary, was last night embroiled in fresh allegations about both his business and private life.

The Commons Registrar of Members' Interests has been asked to look into claims that Mr Aitken failed to declare a paid directorship of a firm allegedly channelling military equipment to Iraq, Astra Defence Systems Ltd, in breach of the Government's arms embargo.

The Independent revealed yesterday that Mr Aitken had attended board meetings of the company, which had changed its name from BMARC.

Stephen Byers, Labour MP for Wallsend, yesterday called on the registrar to examine the former minister's role in 1989-90 as a pounds 10,000-a-year director of the arms firm. Mr Aitken's connection with the company when it was called BMARC is already well known.

Mr Byers said that because Mr Aitken did not list his directorship in the Commons register, MPs did not know about the former minister's links with the renamed company. He said: "This further information may well explain the real reasons behind Jonathan Aitken's resignation from the Cabinet. I hope he will use this opportunity to clear the air and make available the evidence he has given to the Scott inquiry."

In a separate development, the Sunday Mirror today alleges that 12 years ago Mr Aitken had a two-year affair with a woman who, unknown to him, was a prostitute. The unnamed former vice girl also claimed that Mr Aitken, MP for the Kent seat of Thanet South, once referred to his constituents as "peasants".

Mr Aitken was not available for comment yesterday, but a former departmental aide denied that the latest allegations about his private life had prompted last week's resignation. He said: "It is a spectacularly tedious, old and rather down-market story."

Mr Aitken, who friends say may consider legal action over the allegations, said he was quitting the Cabinet last week to fight libel actions against the Guardian and Granada TV's World in Action. The actions arise from claims that Mr Aitken helped to supply girls for a visiting Saudi prince. He strongly denies these allegations.

The latest claims relate to a period almost 15 years ago, just over a year after Mr Aitken married economist Lolicia Olivera. The former prostitute says in the Sunday Mirror that she began an affair with Mr Aitken in December 1980, which continued until March 1983.

The woman also claims: "He never talked about his Commons business when we were together, but he once referred to his constituents as 'peasants'. I was disgusted. I remember thinking that if he was Prime Minister I would emigrate. He had no compassion or feeling for anybody."

Mr Aitken admitted to his closest advisers last month that his ministerial career was hanging by a thread. A confidential memo from his public relations adviser, Patrick Robertson, was published in the Independent on Sunday after being sent in error to the wrong fax number. It revealed that Mr Aitken had considered a statement which would have been "a pre-emptive strike" against newspapers "sniffing around" for a "nasty story". The only way to stop it, Mr Robertson advised, was "to talk to the other person involved".