Aitken friend to escape charges

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The Independent Online
CRIMINAL CHARGES against a personal friend of the former Tory cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken are expected to be dropped at the Old Bailey today.

Said Ayas - godfather to one of Aitken's children - was jointly charged with Aitken of plotting to pervert the course of justice during an unsuccessful libel action against The Guardian newspaper and Granada Television in 1997.

Aitken has always denied the charge, but last month admitted perjury during his High Court action. His civil action in June 1997 centred on the allegation by the newspaper and the television company that he had stayed at the Ritz Hotel in Paris in 1993 at the expense of prominent Saudi Arabian friends while serving as minister for defence procurement.

He also pleaded guilty to intending alone to pervert the course of public justice by drafting a witness statement for his daughter Victoria which he knew was false, and submitting it to the High Court.

Aitken, 56, of Westminster,London, had denied charges alleging conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and doing acts tending and intending to pervert the course of public justice.

The Recorder of London, Michael Hyam, accepted the pleas and remanded Aitken for sentence until June, after Mr Ayas was due to stand trial.

Mr Ayas, 56, a former business associate of Mr Aitken, was also charged with doing acts tending and intending to pervert the course of public justice between 1995 and 1997. He had denied both charges. A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service last night confirmed they had decided not to proceed with the charges against Mr Ayas.

Aitken has said he is preparing himself for a jail term when he is sentenced. He is the first former cabinet minister this century to be convicted of a serious crime.