Aitken is charged with perjury

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The Independent Online
JONATHAN AITKEN and Said Ayas, the man who paid the former Conservative minister's controversial bill at the Paris Ritz, were last night charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The charges were laid on the day a campaign by supporters of Mr Aitken got under way to persuade the media that the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury was on a mission for MI6 when he accepted the hospitality that led to his downfall.

Mr Aitken, 55, is the first ex-Cabinet minister to face serious criminal charges in living memory. He was also charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice.

Mr Ayas, 56, a former adviser to Prince Mohammed, son of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, is also charged with perverting the course of justice.

Both men have been bailed to appear at Bow Street magistrates' court on 6 July. The charges relate to the collapse of the minister's libel trial against the Guardian last year. Mr Aitken claimed that his wife, Lolicia, paid his hotel bill at the Ritz for a stay from 17 to 19 September 1993 during which he met Mr Ayas.

However, during the trial, documents emerged which proved conclusively that Mrs Aitken was not in Paris at the time the bill was paid.

Observers believe Mr Aitken's supporters hoped to air the claims that Mr Aitken was "lying for his country" before charges were laid. The Daily Telegraph, which has consistently been sympathetic to Mr Aitken, yesterday said he had been on a secret mission for MI6 at the time of the Ritz meeting.

Quoting "friends" and a statement from Mr Ayas, the paper said Mr Aitken was at the meeting to pass on sensitive intelligence information about newly deployed Iranian submarines. However, the statement in the Daily Telegraph was an old draft which has been superseded by another which leaves out all references to the operational intelligence role attributed to Mr Aitken. The Independent obtained details of correspondence between his solicitors, Peters & Peters and Denton Hall, last month in which the possibility was mooted of any Aitken trial turning into a re-run of the Matrix Churchill fiasco.