Disgraced at home, deserted abroad

The Aitken aftermath: Middle Eastern associates melt away as ex- minister loses place on Privy Council
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The Independent Online
Away from the deluge of contempt and condemnation unleashed by his humiliating libel defeat, Jonathan Aitken is desperately trying to cling on to his lifeboat, the Saudi connection.

But the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Defence procurement minister is now just a source of embarrassment and a liability to his former Middle-Eastern commercial partners and they are melting away, say Arab sources.

The future looks grim for Mr Aitken. The Guardian is sending material to Scotland Yard over allegations that the former minister committed perjury and attempted to pervert the course of justice. A police investigation is due to start later this week under a senior officer from the yard's Specialist Operations section. The maximum sentence for perjury is seven years, while for perversion of the course of justice it is life imprisonment and, or, a fine.

He faces the further humiliation of being struck off from the list of Privy Councillors, only the second man this century to be so, after Sir Edgar Speyer who was convicted of collaborating with the Germans during the First World War. Senior Privy Councillors have asked him privately to step down to spare the Queen embarrassment.

One political colleague who defended him on the day of trial collapse is having second thoughts.

Tory MP and diarist Alan Clark said: "I wouldn't have been so generous in defending Mr Aitken on Newsnight if I had been aware of the way he used his daughter during the trial". Mr Aitken had produced a statement from daughter, Victoria, in court to back his false account regarding the notorious Paris Ritz stay.

Mr Aitken is believed to have left the country at the end of last week as his lawyers announced his withdrawal from the libel action against The Guardian and Granada TV.

His mother said yesterday that he has gone to America planning a book about his downfall, and would write it in the near future at her home in Ibiza. But, it is believed, he has also placed a series of calls to his former Arab business partners in Riyadh.

One source claimed: "There have been expressions of sympathy from the Saudis about what has happened to him. But that is a long way from resuming the kind of close business links they had in the past. His position then got him the fat deals; his position now means he will no longer open doors in London, but have them shut in his face."

His Saudi friends will also have to be very careful. There is always jockeying for political and financial power at the Saudi court, and rival factions will seize on just how much damage Mr Aitken has caused the reputation of the Royal Family".

Two of Mr Aitken's closest business associates, Prince Mohammed, son of the Saudi King, and Said Ayas, are believed to be in Riyadh. Mr Aitken was a director of Al-Bilad a company owned by the Prince until he became a minister. During his stay at the Paris Ritz hotel in September l993 the then Defence Procurement minister met Mr Ayas while the Prince, through an assistant, paid the the bill for his stay. Accepting Saudi hospitality was a breach of guidelines on ministerial conduct.

Syrian-born Wafic Said, was also an important contact. But Mr Said, who has become Oxford University's biggest post-war benefactor, with a gift of pounds 20m for a business school, is also said to be keen to distance himself from Mr Aitken.

If the defamation case had continued, further details embarrassing to the Saudis were due to aired regarding arms- trading. The court would have been told that on 10 September l993 Mr Aitken received a letter at his MoD office from Lord Justice Scott's inquiry. The judge was investigating allegations, obtained by British intelligence, that powerful Saudis were involved in secret deals diverting weapons to Iraq. It also mentioned allegations of his own involvement. Within days, Mr Aitken had visited the Paris Ritz for his meeting with Mr Ayas. Subsequently he provided a statement to Lord Justice Scott saying "a small number of Saudi Arabians, two of them junior members of the Royal family, were clients of the [Aitken Hume] Bank".

But Prince Mohammed and other Saudis had been important investors in the bank and other Aitken ventures. The bank had also been supported with more than pounds 15m in the mid-1980s from Wafic Said.

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