Aitken sells country home to pay his bills

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NINE MONTHS after spectacularly losing his High Court libel action, Jonathan Aitken is selling his country home to pay his legal costs.

The former defence minister's wealthy Saudi friends have failed to pick up the pounds 1.8m bill incurred in the defamation case, according to a member of his family. And one of the reasons he has recently taken up a job selling "telecommunications" equipment for GEC-Marconi is that he needs the money.

The sale of the White House in Mr Aitken's former constituency in Sandwich, Kent, is said to be in the final stages for a figure of about pounds 500,000. And there is also a possibility, according to the family member, that the former MP may also have to sell his Georgian townhouse in Westminster which is said to be worth pounds 1.5m.

Mr Aitken hopes his work with GEC-Marconi will lead to other consultancy arrangements. The family member, who does not wish to be named, strenuously denied that the former minister was back plying his old trade in arms. She said: "We know Jonathan lied. But it really is too much that everything he does is viewed with suspicion. Of course he knows a lot of people in the Arab world and it is natural that is the area he would be concentrating in. But it is nonsense to say he is selling missiles."

Mr Aitken bought the White House in l987. The large house overlooks the Channel and the Royal St George's golf course.

Mr Aitken has said the home was a gift to his wife Lolicia and children from his Serbian mother-in-law. But during the High Court case it was discovered that the White House was registered as owned by a Panamanian company, Hipper Real Estate, administered from the office of Mark Vere Nicholl, a lawyer associate of Mr Aitken in a company called Al Bilad.

The Westminster home at Lord North Street is the former home of Brendan Bracken, Winston Churchill's information chief during the war. Mr Aitken took the 10-room house in l959 on a 42-year lease, and bought the freehold in l981 for pounds 225,000.

The strength of Mr Aitken's relationship with the Saudi royal family is open to question. Diplomatic sources say the Saudis were greatly embarrassed about the disclosures made during Mr Aitken's court case.

In the meantime the Scotland Yard investigation launched last August into Mr Aitken's alleged perjury and attempt to pervert the course of justice still has not been completed. Detectives have travelled to carry out inquiries in Switzerland and Paris. A report is due to be presented to the Crown Prosecution Service within the next month. The family member said: "This is a terrible thing to hang over you. Jonathan is quite willing to talk to the police, but as far as I know they still have not bothered to interview him."

When approached by The Independent, Mr Aitken said: "I am sorry, I don't speak to journalists nowadays. I can't help you."