Obituary: Allan Francovich

That Allan Francovich should die prematurely, succumbing to a heart attack in the Customs Area of Houston Airport, is hardly astonishing to those whose lives were touched by this remarkable, hyperactive film director. I picture him arriving to meet me in the Central Lobby of the House of Commons, bag and baggage full of contents, out of breath, and blurting out the latest discovery that he had made about the iniquity of the authorities.

He reeled off facts at a mind-boggling rate. Yet, unlike most conspiracy theorists - of which he was proud to be one - Francovich was scrupulous about fact, and particularly about unpalatable facts which did not suit his suspicions. I never caught him cutting any inconvenient corners to arrive at the conclusion he wanted. He was, above all, a seeker after truth, wheresoever that truth might lead.

Francovich was born in 1941, into a Jewish engineer's family in New York, but brought up in the Mira Flores district of Lima, one of the most sophisticated societies in the Americas. At an early age his extraordinary facility for languages was developed. It was to prove a launching pad, not only for academic success, but also for making investigative films which required mastery of precision in language as the complicated projects he undertook crossed international borders. Nothing Francovich either said or did was other than complicated.

From the University of San Marcos in Lima, he went to Notre Dame in the United States, where did a Bachelor of Arts in English, Romance and Slavic Languages. From there he went to the Sorbonne to study Comparative Literature and to L'Ecole des Langues Orientales, where he studied Russian, Serbo- Croat and the Arabic that was to prove so useful two decades later in untangling the complexities of Lockerbie.

He completed his education at Berkeley, California, where he studied the Dramatic Arts and was prominent in the university when Flower Power was at its height.

In 1970, Francovich married Kathleen Weaver, a graduate of Edinburgh University, who collaborated with him in his first major investigative film, Short Circuit (1970), relating to the murder of nuns in El Salvador. His linguistic talent was put to effective use in another joint venture, On Company Business (1980). Their work run the prestigious International Critics Award for the best documentary at the Berlin Film Festival, exposing as it did many of the thuggish practices of the Central Intelligence Agency.

It was a matter of sadness to him that he drifted apart from his wife and was without her during the creation of the documentary Gladio (1992) which was partially instrumental in bringing down an Italian government by exposing its links with American intelligence and the Americans' gross misbehaviour in assaulting democracy in Italy.

My first introduction to Francovich was from Dr Jim Swire of the British Lockerbie Victims, who said that he had persuaded the best investigative film director in America to turn his attention to the crash of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire, on 21 December 1988 that had killed his daughter Flora along with 269 other victims.

Once persuaded that there was a cause for suspicion, Francovich was the most determined of ferrets. The end result was his film The Maltese Double Cross (1995), made in conjunction with his fervently loyal colleagues John Ashton and David Ben-Aryeah and their cameraman Jeremy Stavenhagen. The showing of the film on Channel 4, and in the House of Commons, did more than anything else to awaken the British from J.S. Mill's "deep slumber of a decided opinion" about responsibility for Lockerbie.

Quite simply, Francovich proved the so-called Malta connection, on which the case against Libya depends, was a fabrication. Francovich identified the shooting down by the USS Vincennes of an Iranian airliner carrying pilgrims to Mecca as the starting point for Lockerbie. The Iranian Minister of the Interior, Ali Akbar Mostashemi, swore that there should be a "rain of blood" in revenge. He had been, crucially, the Iranian ambassador in Damascus from 1982 to 1985, and had close connections with the terrorist gangs of Beirut and the Bekaa valley. They had infiltrated an American drug sting operation, which allowed them to circumvent the security precautions at the Rhine Main airport in Frankfurt. It was typical of Frankovich that he could go to the Jafaar family of the naive courier who had perished in Pan Am 103, and capture them on film in a powerful sequence showing up the activities of the Neuss terrorist gang operating in Germany.

It was Francovich's multi-dimensional, multilingual talents which I am sure will eventually unlock the truth about Lockerbie. Rare indeed, outside fiction, are the crusaders of truth who, time and again, have put themselves in personal danger as Francovich did.

Tam Dalyell

Allan Francovich, film director: born New York 1941; married 1970 Kathleen Weaver (marriage dissolved 1985); died Houston, Texas 17 April 1997.

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