Millionaire loses 'Indecent Proposal' case

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The longest slander action in English legal history came to a close yesterday as the multi-millionaire Brian Maccaba lost his High Court action against a leading rabbi. In a case that had infamously been dubbed the "Indecent Proposal" action, the father of six had denied offering $1m for a friend's wife.

The longest slander action in English legal history came to a close yesterday as the multi-millionaire Brian Maccaba lost his High Court action against a leading rabbi. In a case that had infamously been dubbed the "Indecent Proposal" action, the father of six had denied offering $1m for a friend's wife.

Yesterday, Mr Maccaba simply raised one eyebrow as the jury's response indicated he had lost his claim against Rabbi Yaakov Lichtenstein.

The businessman had accused the rabbi, the senior judge in the Beth Din or rabbinical court, of spreading "poisonous" allegations that he was a "sexual predator" and a "serial adulterer" who chased after young married Jewish women. Rabbi Lichtenstein had hotly denied slandering the businessman, chief executive and founder of international technology company Cognotec, in early 2001.

Mr Maccaba, 46, was left with a £2m bill for costs when the jury decided the rabbi's words were not likely to disparage the businessman but had been "substantially true". They were not meant maliciously and did not amount to harassment.

The two-month case, before Mr Justice Morland, offered a rare insight into the "complicated and strange" workings of the orthodox Jewish world. A close-knit community which usually opts to settle its scores privately had been "significantly polarised", explained Mr Maccaba's QC Clive Freedman.

To speak against a Dayan (religious judge) let alone take him to court was unacceptable and would "heap shame on the community", he added.

In a highly-charged case, , the jury heard claims from Alain Attar and his wife Nathalie that the millionaire had offered $1m for her. Twice the Orthodox wife said he had sexually harassed her - once with a kiss on the lips and, on another occasion, fondling her breast.

Mrs Attar, 35, ,said his attentions were unwelcome. Her husband, whom she married in 1993, was her "life". "I don't love (Mr Maccaba) and I never loved him," she told the jury. Mr Attar claimed that Mr Maccaba, of Hendon, north London, a Dublin-born millionaire who converted to Judaism in 1990, told him in summer 1999 he had fallen in love with Nathalie the first time he saw her and wanted to father her children.

Mr Attar said: "He said to me 'If you only knew how much she is worth to me'. He said, 'I will throw a figure at you'. I said 'OK, Brian'. He said to me 'She is worth a million dollars to me'."

At the centre of the case was a poem, Knocking on Heaven's Door, which Mr Maccaba, who has won awards for Gaelic poetry, had sent to the Attars.

" To set her free - a golden key/ a bachelor's freedom again; one million dollars cash, in the bank, tax-free/ to help your parents, in their penury/ to send your children to the best University/ or just to be a Playboy in the South of France for a while (Perhaps all three)."

But Mr Maccaba, who had lent the couple a deposit for their home and employed Mrs Atta, a Jewish studies teacher, at a school he founded, vehemently denied Mrs Attar's claims.

He said that the allegation that he had tried to make a payment that mirrored the 1993 Robert Redford film Indecent Proposal, in which the star offers cash to a young couple, as "ridiculous'' and agreed with a defence lawyer that it would be "abhorrent for a rich man to try and buy another man's wife".

His relationship with Mrs Attar had been reciprocal; intensely emotional but never physical. He had not been sexually attracted to her, he said.

In August 1999, when they were both experiencing difficulties in their marriages, Mrs Attar had "declared her love for me", he claimed, and it was then he realised their emotional closeness had gone too far.

The Attars had turned to Rabbi Lichtenstein, 49, a father of eight from Cricklewood, north London, in December 2000.

In May 2001 a Jewish court, the Kedassia Beth Din, investigated Mrs Attar claims of sexual harassment against Mr Maccaba, and the alleged million dollar offer, and found them "not proven".

The rabbi denied bearing a grudge against Mr Maccaba, saying: "He never committed adultery. But he did violate the Tenth Commandment - thou shalt not covet someone else's wife."

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

BRIAN MACCABA

The 46 year-old founder and chief executive of technology company Cognotec declared it "ridiculous" that he had offered $1m for his friend's wife. The Dublin-born millionaire, who converted to Judaism in 1990, said a poem in which he seemed to suggest such an offer was "silly" and had been laughed off by the Attars.

NATHALIE ATTAR

The 35-year-old Orthodox law student strongly denied declaring her love for Mr Maccaba, saying his attentions had forced her family to flee to Jerusalem.Horrified by the attention, she tried unsuccessfully for an anonymity order. Seven months pregnant, she collapsed in court and gave her evidence by video link from Israel.

RABBI YAAKOV LICHTENSTEIN

The 49-year-old, a father of eight, told the court he believed Nathalie Attar's complaints of sexual harassment. The American born Rabbi, an influential member of the community and the senior dayan, or judge, in the Beth Din or rabbinical court, said he had not taken against Mr Maccaba as a convert to Judaism.