`Financially ruined' Aitken in court

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The Independent Online
THE FORMER cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken appeared before magistrates yesterday for the beginning of committal proceedings on charges of perverting the cause of justice, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and perjury.

Judgment was reserved after a day of legal argument, and Mr Aitken - believed to be the first former cabinet minister to be charged with serious criminal offences - now has to wait until 7 December to find out if he faces trial. His co- defendant, Said Ayas, will also discover on 7 December if he faces criminal action.

Whatever the outcome, the MP once regarded as one of the richest in Westminster is now said to be financially ruined.

Before his fall from grace, he owned a pounds 2m house in central London and another property near his Kent constituency. The White House overlooks Royal St George's golf course in Sandwich. He also owned land in Australia. He was once a major shareholder in the Aitken Hume Bank and a director of Al Bilad UK, a hugely successful investment company. His former wife, Lolicia, claimed their lifestyle cost about pounds 15,000 a month.

After the collapse of his libel action against The Guardian and Granada Television's World in Action programme, Mr Aitken faces a pounds 2m legal bill. Last month, a High Court judge stopped him from transferring the house in Lord North Street, central London, and land in Australia to his estranged wife in the divorce settlement.

The former chief secretary to the Treasury now appears to have little by way of assets. The house in Kent has been sold for about pounds 500,000. But the property is registered to a Panamanian company, Hipper Real Estate.

Mr Aitken took the Lord North Street house in 1959 on a 42-year lease, and bought the freehold in 1981 for pounds 225,000. The beneficiary, he has told friends, is his wife, although she is not registered as the legal owner. The land in Australia was bought in the early 1970s for about A$15,000 (pounds 6,000). However, it has turned out to be a poor investment, and Mr Aitken now wants to turn it over as part of the divorce settlement.

It is understood he and his former wife also own a flat around the corner from his Lord North Street home. But because Mr Aitken's mother is a life tenant there, the real value of his half share despite the prime location of the property, may only be about pounds 80,000. He wants to sell this to his mother.

Mr Aitken's liabilities, including legal fees, are said to far outweigh his assets, which apart from the half share in his mother's flat consist of a small sum in shares, and some furniture.

Even his car, he says, belongs to his former wife, although it is registered in his name.

Since the collapse of the libel trial, Mr Aitken is said to have tried to combat stress by taking part in a form of body massage called "scream therapy". A committed Christian, he has also undertaken a 10-week course in "Christian Basics" at the Holy Trinity, Brompton. One of his favourite psalms, according to friends, is: "If you are going through a vale of human misery, then use it as a well."