Harrods row over who was top man: War of words after former managing director claims store's owner even wanted to be in charge of slicing the salami

AN EXTRAORDINARY war of words erupted yesterday over the departure of Harrods' managing director.

Peter Bolliger, 49, has said that he resigned from the pounds 100,000-a-year post after a dispute over who was actually supposed to be running the Knightsbridge store. Yesterday's Mail on Sunday quoted him as saying: 'There are 5,000 staff and they have to know who to report to. When I resigned, I told Mr Fayed (Mohamed al-Fayed, the proprietor) that I felt many people were confused as to who to take orders from.'

He went on: 'I'm tough . . . I have done a great job at Harrods and that's something no one can take away from me. You simply can't have two kings in an organisation like Harrods.'

The newspaper also quoted Swiss-born Mr Bolliger as saying that Mr Fayed - who spent eight years fighting off attacks by Roland 'Tiny' Rowland, head of Lonrho, - liked to feel he was running the company totally by himself. 'He will even go behind a counter and cut salami.'

But Michael Cole, director of public affairs at Harrods, countered: 'Bolliger preferred to work on Harrods' Oyster Bar.'

The store says that Mr Bolliger was incompetent and dishonest.

This morning, Chelsea police will receive a dossier, relating to unspecified criminal matters, from the store.

Mr Cole, said: 'His departure was not voluntary, as reports in the Mail on Sunday, quoting Mr Bolliger, clearly imply. He had asked Harrods to state publicly that he had resigned for personal reasons. To be compassionate to his family, Harrods agreed but, in the light of today's published interview, Harrods is obliged to put the record straight.'

In his statement, Mr Cole said: 'Mr Bolliger has been the subject of an internal investigation concerning defalcations and possible contraventions of the Immigration Act. His dismissal follows an unfavourable audit of Kurt Geiger shoes (a subsidiary chaired by Mr Bolliger) and his gross mishandling of the administration of a pounds 3.3m modernisation project at Harrods distribution centre at Osterley, west London.'

The store also claims that Mr Bolliger received a formal warning this month, following 'his mishandling of the dismissal of Nick Whalley, distribution director'. Mr Cole said: 'Mr Whalley had knowingly continued the employment of a man who had secured his job through fraudulent qualifications. Mr Bolliger had known Mr Whalley in South Africa. Instead of dismissing Mr Whalley summarily, Mr Bolliger agreed to give him a pounds 22,000 severance package, against the express instructions of Harrods' owners.'

The phone at Mr Bolliger's elegant four-storey Knightsbridge home, owned by Harrods and sited opposite the menswear entrance, went unanswered yesterday.

Mr Bolliger's parting shot in the Mail was: 'After working 70-hour weeks at Harrods I will enjoy spending more time with the family. I'm confident I will get another job, but we want to return to the sun, so we may well go back to South Africa. I know President de Klerk and they'd be grateful for my skills.'

Back at Harrods, Mr Cole said: 'All 14 doors will be open today - it is a very big business and bigger than one individual. The success of Harrods owes everything to the efforts of Harrods' 3,000 dedicated staff and to the vision and investment of its owners. It has little to do with Mr Bolliger.'

(Photographs omitted)