Al-Hilli killings: One year on, mystery surrounds the quadruple murder in the Alps

But French and British investigators pledge 'absolute determination' to solve it

Paris

Industrial espionage is now regarded as one of three possible explanations for the the Al-Hilli killings in the French Alps a year ago this week.

French investigators today put forward for the first time the possibility that Saad Al-Hilli, a satellite engineer, might have been the target of an assassination by a “state agency” connected with technological spying.

But the Annecy prosecutor, Eric Maillaud, admitted to an anniversary press conference that the mystery of the quadruple murder on a forest lay-bay above Lake Annecy in the French Alps remained almost intact.

Despite 12 months of exhaustive investigations in France and Britain, “there is not the start of the beginning of proof” of who may have been responsible, Mr Maillaud said.

Two other lines of inquiry remained open, he said.

The first was a “violent” quarrel between Saad al-Hilli and his brother Zaid over their father’s €3-5 million inheritance. The second was a targeted hit by an unknown person or persons in Iraq, who wanted to deprive both brothers of their father’s legacy.

On 5 September last year, Saad a-Hilli, 50, a British-Iraqi satellite engineer, his wife Iqbal, 47, a dentist, and her mother Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, were found shot in the head in the family BMW estate two miles from the village of Chevaline. The body of a local cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, 45, lay nearby.

The couple's 7-year-old daughter, Zainab al-Hilli, was found at the scene with head and shoulder injuries. Her sister, Zeena, 4, was found unharmed eight hours later hiding beneath her dead mother’s legs in the back of the car.

In June, British police arrested Mr al-Hilli’s older brother, Zaid, 54, on suspicion of ordering the killings. He was released on bail without charge.

“Zaid  should not at all be regarded as the number one suspect,” Mr Maillaud said yesterday. “He had a motive in the sense that he was in a serious conflict with his brother but there is not the shadow of an element pointing to his guilt which could justify keeping him in custody.”

Zaid al-Hilli protests his innocence and denies that there was any quarrel over their father’s will, thought to include property and cash in Britain, Switzerland, Spain and Iraq. He will be questioned again, Mr Maillaud said.

“People have been killed for less than that,” the prosecutor said. “There was a violent conflict between them. Saad was afraid of his brother.”

The prosecutor – who is no longer leading the investigation but remains its chief spokesman -  said the “family quarrel” was only one of three “equally strong” lines of inquiry. Mr Maillaud revealed that Saad al-Hilli had kept at his home in Claygate, Surrey, an “unusual” amount of documents from his work on weather-forecasting and crop-watching micro-satellites.

“His company worked for many foreign states,” Mr Maillaud said. “Any mention of foreign countries and industrial espionage inevitably raises the possibility of the involvement of secret intelligence agencies.”

“This is a very complex part of the inquiry… but investigations are far from being closed on this subject.”

On the third, Iraqi, line of inquiry, Mr Maillaud  said the authorities in Baghdad had promised to cooperate but had still not responded to an international warrant issue in November last year.

“The question is whether there is anyone in Iraq who currently controls part of the father’s inheritance who would benefit from the disappearance of both al-Hilli brothers.”

Mr Maillaud insisted that the “very complex” investigation was not “stuck” and had made some progress recently. The US authorities, after months of delay, had finally approved access to data from Saad al-Hilli’s computers, stored across the Atlantic.

The prosecutor also revealed that Mr al-Hilli had recorded all of his phone conversations and investigators were going through the tapes.  

There were still 40 French and 40 British investigators working on the case, the prosecutor said. In France alone, 3,000 witnesses had given formal statements and 107 expert reports had been commissioned. Formal requests for information had been sent to 23 countries.

The killer is known to have used an antique 7.65mm  Lugar P06 revolver, issued to the Swiss army and police in the 1920s and 1930s. Part of the handle of the gun was found at the scene.

Three clips of eight bullets were fired in a very short time, Mr Maillaud said. There were no bullet impacts on the bodywork of the car. This suggested that the attacker was an “experienced killer”  but, otherwise, investigators had been unable to create a clear profile.

The use of such an old gun – widely available locally but not a weapon of choice for professional hitmen or secret agents – is one of the great remaining mysteries of the investigation.   

Representatives of  Surrey police were also present.

Detective superintendent Nick May said: “We remain committed to finding answers to what happened that day on behalf of their (the victims') families, particularly for the two young girls who lost their parents.

“We have established a good working relationship with our French colleagues and are continuing to pursue a number of lines of inquiry in the UK.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas
footballChelsea vs West Ham live kicks off coverage of all 10 of Boxing Day matches
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all