Jewish widow seeks legacy of Muslim millionaire

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To his family Abdulaziz Al-Bassam was a devout Muslim who could trace his bloodline back to the prophet Mohammed and counted the Saudi royal family among his acquaintances.

To his family Abdulaziz Al-Bassam was a devout Muslim who could trace his bloodline back to the prophet Mohammed and counted the Saudi royal family among his acquaintances.

But to the air hostess who called him her husband, the millionaire was a drinker, smoker and gambler who enjoyed life in London's affluent Eaton Square.

It was not until his death from cancer in November 2001 at the age of 76 that his two worlds collided as both sides laid claim to his £30m estate.

Lesley June Al-Bassam, who insists she is his widow, and his half-brother Abdullah Saleh Al-Bassam confronted each other at the Court of Appeal yesterday.

Mrs Bassam claims the marriage took place at Westminster Register Office in 1986 and, despite living unconventionally in separate Belgravia flats, they remained happy.

But Mr Bassam's only surviving sibling is adamant that his half brother would never have married a Jewish woman with an illegitimate child.

Mrs Bassam, who is in her mid-50s, has a will drawn up in August 2001 granting her the entire estate, Mr Bassam has made an application to a court in Riyadh to have it declared void.

Yesterday he challenged a High Court order made by Mr Justice Lewison last October, restraining him from continuing proceedings in Saudi Arabia, where he insists his brother was domiciled.

If overturned, it would mean the case could be heard under Sharia and not English law. But, should Mrs Bassam succeed in blocking the appeal, a four-week High Court trial is scheduled for October.

Tom Lowe, representing Mrs Bassam, said the millionaire and horse-racing fan could never tell his family of his marriage. "It would scarcely have met the approval of Abdullah or his sons, or the Saudi royals with whom they were connected."

Mr Lowe continued: "In England Abdulaziz was able to be a non-observant Muslim. He was a prodigious drinker, smoker and gambler."

Mr Lowe told the Vice Chancellor, Sir Andrew Morritt, Lord Justice Chadwick and Lord Justice Carnwath yesterday that upon Mr Bassam's death in November 2001, his half-brother had accused Mrs Bassam of forging her marriage certificate. Her privacy had been intruded, he claimed, and her medical records appeared to have been inspected without her permission.

However Charles Aldous QC, for Abdullah Saleh Al-Bassam, insisted that "to all outward appearances" the businessman was a "confirmed bachelor" who listed himself so on hospital records.

Mr Aldous added that the circumstances of the will coming to light were "extraordinary", pointing out that Mr Bassam had moved sums totalling £5,400,969 and US$17,412,755 out of the UK's "jurisdiction" shortly before his death.

"If he genuinely intended to benefit Mrs Bassam it seems odd that he transferred substantial assets effectively out of her reach," he observed.

He warned that even if the case is heard in the UK, the half-brother would still seek to have the will declared invalid under Sharia law and had already made an application in Riyadh.

The appeal case is due to last three days.