The Cash-for-Questions Affair: Al Fayed's rise from salesman to wealthy stores chief

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The Independent Online
MOHAMED al-Fayed's entry in Who's Who is a bare five lines. The fabulously wealthy Egyptian-born owner of Harrods is a retiring, some would say secretive, sort of cove.

The brevity begs many questions and masks more than a few controversies.

According to the entry he was born in Alexandria on 27 January 1933.

However, official records in Egypt suggest that, in fact, he was born four years earlier, in 1929.

According to Harrods' press office Mr Fayed is the son of a professor of Arabic. Some accounts suggest that he and his two younger brothers, Ali and Salah, had British nannies and that he went to the British-administered Victoria College in Alexandria where 'he was caned and stuffed full of crumpets by Oxbridge-educated masters'.

However, other accounts suggest, more mundanely, that he and his brothers are the sons of Ali Ali Fayed, a primary school teacher who lived in a poor quarter of Alexandria. This latter, less glamorous, curriculum vitae also suggests that, after leaving the local school, Mohamed worked as a sewing machine salesman at a salary of less than pounds 10 Egyptian a month.

His break came when he was taken up by Adnan Khashoggi, the arms dealer and businessman, then based in Alexandria. He was planning to open a furniture import company in Saudia Arabia. Mohamed was put in charge and was a great success.

In 1954, he married Mr Kashoggi's sister, Samira, and they had one son, Dodi, now a film producer. She died of cancer and Mr Fayed parted with Mr Khashoggi and went into business on his own. The first recorded al-Fayed company, in Alexandria, is in 1956.

Later commercial incarnations include being a middleman between the Sheik of Dubai and British contractors and, most significantly, in about 1983 becoming a negotiator for the immensely wealthy Sultan of Brunei. Sometime in the 1970s the prefix 'al-' was added to the brothers' name.

On 11 March 1985, he acquired the House of Fraser group of department stores and their jewel in the crown, Harrods, for pounds 650m. Earlier this year 56 stores were sold off in a pounds 400m-plus stockmarket flotation. Today he owns Harrods, the Ritz of Paris, Kurt Geiger and Carvela Shoes, Turnbull & Asser and a portfolio of other blue chip companies.

Mr Fayed also owns a state-of- the art Gulfstream G4 executive jet and a helicopter which he uses to commute to work. He and his second wife, who is Finnish, have four children.