Fayed was vindictive employer, court told

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The Independent Online

Mohamed Al Fayed's fantasy life led him to portray himself as a shipping tycoon in the style of Aristotle Onassis in public, but in private he was a vindictive employer carrying out vicious campaigns against staff who crossed him, the High Court was told yesterday.

Mohamed Al Fayed's fantasy life led him to portray himself as a shipping tycoon in the style of Aristotle Onassis in public, but in private he was a vindictive employer carrying out vicious campaigns against staff who crossed him, the High Court was told yesterday.

Desmond Browne, QC, for former Tory minister Neil Hamilton, said that while Mr Fayed claimed to own 36 ships at the time he purchased Harrods in 1985, he actually owned just two roll-on, roll-off ferries.

Mr Fayed - giving his fourth day of evidence at the libel action brought against him by Mr Hamilton, the former MP for Tatton, over claims that he had asked questions in the Commons in return for cash, gifts and free holidays - denied that his claims of ship ownership were symptomatic of a career based on lies.

"Barges, supply boats, courier boats - ships right! - ships have propellers and sail on the sea. When I say that I'm a shipowner, I show you that I'm a shipowner, and that's it," said Mr Fayed, the owner of Harrods. Mr Browne said: "You were painting yourself as a figure similar to Onassis".

Mr Browne went on to cite a number of instances where Mr Fayed had "vindictively hunted" members of his staff with whom he had fallen out.

The Harrods' deputy chairman, Christophe Bettermann, had been told he would be destroyed if he left the company. Mr Browne said Mr Fayed made charges of embezzlement against Mr Bettermann which resulted in him being prosecuted in Dubai and appearing in court 24 times until the case was dismissed on Christmas Day 1993. Mr Browne said that on Mr Bettermann's return to the UK, he started libel proceedings and Mr Fayed agreed to pay him substantial damages.

Another employee, Peter Bolliger, the managing director of Harrods from 1990 until 1994, resigned that April because he was fed up with Mr Fayed interfering in every aspect of Harrods' business, Mr Browne said. A subsequent interview which Mr Bolliger gave to the press triggered a series of "vindictive actions" on Mr Fayed's behalf.

Mr Browne said an allegation of criminal dishonesty was made to police about Graham Jones, Harrods' director of corporate strategy and planning, who left the company in January 1990. It was accepted that Mr Jones was guilty of "grave breaches of the civil law" in relation to breaching commercial confidentiality, but Mr Browne said: "My suggestion is that nevertheless an allegation of criminal dishonesty was made to the police for which there was no basis."

The QC also accused Mr Fayed of having his "secret service" listen in to the telephone calls of another employee, Sandra Glass, and then secretly recording a meeting with her sacked superior and other former colleagues.

John McNamara, Mr Fayed's head of security, lodged with the police a "bogus complaint" of dishonesty about Ms Glass that she had stolen two floppy discs worth 80p which led to her arrest and being held in a police cell from 8.30pm until 3am the following day, the jury was told. Harrods later had to pay her £13,500 compensation at an industrial tribunal.

Mr Browne went on to say that Mr Fayed had initially claimed that the first payment to Mr Hamilton was in June 1987, but the Harrods owner was now suggesting it was in 1986. Mr Fayed replied: "It was 14 years ago. It's the best of my recollection ... the dates are difficult to remember."

The case continues.