Aitken is accused of 13 lies over Ritz

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The Independent Online
Former Cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken was yesterday accused in the High Court of telling a web of 13 lies over his stay at the Paris Ritz.

George Carman, QC, for the defence said Mr Aitken's version "produced 13 matters which added together show a catalogue of coincidence of such improbability as to be preposterous. It is such a catalogue of coincidence that it is tainted."

Mr Aitken, the former Defence Procurement Minister and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is suing The Guardian and Granada TV, the makers of World In Action, over allegations that he was in the "pocket" of powerful Saudi interests, pimped for Arabs, and was involved in secret arms deals.

He claims that his controversial stay at the Paris Ritz in September 1993 was during a trip to see his daughter settled at a Swiss school. The payment of his hotel bill by the Saudi Prince Mohammed was an "unfortunate muddle".

Mr Carman has told Mr Justice Popplewell, hearing the libel action without a jury, that Mr Aitken's acceptance of such hospitality from a son of the Saudi king would have directly contravened the guidelines on ministerial conduct.

Turning to the payment of the hotel bill Mr Carman listed what he alleged were 13 lies. They include the following:

The Ritz got his registration form wrong by allocating his bill to Saudi businessman Said Ayas, either by a deliberate set-up or a mistake.

He offered his credit card on arrival but it was rejected, and he never discovered the method which should used to pay the bill. Mr Aitken never asked for a bill at anytime and his wife, by mistake, paid half of it and got what he called a receipt - but in fact it was the last page of Mr Ayas's bill.

Mr Aitken's close friend, Mr Ayas, never told him that Prince Mohammed was paying the entire bill and concealed that fact for two years after the event.

Mr Aitken told the Cabinet Secretary in March 1994 that his wife had paid his bill and had a receipt for it, that statement being untrue and designed to mislead the official.

Mr Aitken copied that letter to John Major knowing it was untrue, and did not attempt to correct the deceptions until compelled to produce the documents 14 days later after Mr Major intervened and suggested the receipt be send to The Guardian.

In April 1994 Mr Aitken told the Cabinet Secretary Mr Ayas's nephew Abdul Rahman, had overpaid his bill and had confirmed that to Mr Aitken.

Mr Rahman had received Mr Aitken's cheque but pursuant to Mr Aitken's "conspiratorial agreement" with Mr Ayas and banked it, although not entitled to a penny of it, while not informing Mr Aitken.

Mr Aitken had a conversation with Prince Mohammed while at the Ritz about a possible defence contract to do with four British submarines, but did not reveal that until the inquiry, in October 1994, into other allegations.

At the end of presenting that list to the court, Mr Carman said: "When you add up that catalogue of improbabilities, do you not realise how scandalously incredible, and how preposterous, your story is?"

Mr Aitken responded: "No, I don't realise any such thing ... I completely reject the flamboyant allegations made during those 13 points and, above all, at the end of those 13 points."

The case continues.