'Prince of Marbella' walks free: A Syrian multi-millionaire accused of financing the hijacking of the 'Achille Lauro' has been released from jail in Spain on record bail, writes Phil Davison, in Madrid

STAFF at his rambling Mediterranean palace, described by past guests as something out of A Thousand and One Nights, prepared a special welcome of Arab delicacies and much champagne. After a somewhat uncomfortable absence, 'The Prince of Marbella' was coming home.

The 'prince', known thus as a result of his luxurious lifestyle, is a multi-millionaire Syrian arms dealer, Monzer al-Kassar, 47, who left the Alcala-Meco prison near Madrid last night after more than a year in detention. Mr Kassar was not exactly free. He was being released on a record Spanish bail of around pounds 10m.

Linked in past media reports with the Lockerbie bombing, Mr Kassar faces no such charges here. He is, however, accused of being the financier of Abul Abbas's extremist Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), to have financed and helped deliver the arms used in the 1985 hijack of the Achille Lauro cruise ship and to have abetted the 1984 Madrid shooting of a Lebanese, Elias Awad, suspected by the PLF to have been an Israeli Mossad agent.

Also pending are a string of lesser accusations, drawn up by an investigating Spanish magistrate, ranging from illegal possession of firearms to using false passports and running a network of stolen luxury cars.

He denies all the accusations that led then magistrate Baltasar Garzon to order his preventive detention in June last year. Before this week's unexpected National (High) Court decision to allow him out on conditional liberty, he had been expected to be charged with most, if not all the accusations. Now, though he is not supposed to leave Spain, some judicial sources here cast considerable doubt that he will be charged or tried.

Mr Garzon was named by Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez yesterday as Spain's anti-narcotics tsar, a new job aimed at combatting the rising tide of hard drugs into this country. Privately, Mr Garzon told friends he had been stunned by the decision of a three-man National Court tribunal to free the Syrian on bail. The same tribunal had only two weeks earlier prolonged Mr Kassar's preventive detention until June next year.

Mr Kassar made world headlines in 1989 when a Democratic US congressman, James Traficant, claimed the Syrian had been involved in the Lockerbie bombing. The congressman produced a documented report which suggested the CIA had allowed Mr Kassar to run a heroin-shipping network into the US in return for information on American hostages in Lebanon. Unknown to both the CIA and Mr Kassar, the report suggested, Palestinian guerrilla leader Ahmed Jibril got wind of the operation and had supporters switch the lethal timebomb suitcase for one containing drugs that went on PanAm flight 103 in December 1988.

Mr Kassar, the report went on, found out about the bomb in advance and tipped off US authorities, but nothing was done.

The report was later widely discredited as an attempt to muddy the waters of the Lockerbie investigation and Mr Kassar denied any involvement.

According to Mr Garzon, however, the evidence linking the Syrian with the Achille Lauro hijacking was strong. The then magistrate visited Italy several times to interview the jailed Palestinian hijackers and said they had identified Mr Kassar 'with 100 per cent certainty' as the man who gave them the AK-47 rifles and other weapons they used.

Another Arab witness against Mr Kassar, one of his former aides known as Abu Merced and still in preventive detention in Spain, described the Syrian as the PLF's financier and said the weapons had been obtained by Mr Kassar in Warsaw.

After another witness in the al-Kassar case, his former cook, Ismail Jalid, was found dead after falling from the fourth floor of a building last September, Abu Merced withdrew his testimony against Mr Kassar. Mr Jalid's death, which looked at first sight like suicide, was later treated as murder, still unsolved. There has never been any official suggestion that Mr Kassar was involved in Jalid's death.

Diplomatic sources here say Mr Kassar's connections with various intelligence services around the world may have helped him win release on bail. Despite the fact that he has been detained, wanted or deported from several countries including Britain he has been able to move around the world freely in recent years.

Evidence given to the US Irangate hearings said the CIA had paid Mr Kassar dollars 1.5m ( pounds 1m) for helping get arms to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

Mr Kassar set up home in Marbella in the early Eighties. His protectors, according to diplomats who were involved in the case, were Spanish police, intelligence and government officials. That protection was given as a quid pro quo to France, whom Mr Kassar was said to have helped win the release of French hostages from Lebanon.

Spain owed the French the favour for cracking down on Basque Eta terrorists in southern France and allowing a shadowy Spanish organisation known as GAL to hunt down the terrorists. GAL was later found to have involved senior Spanish police officers, two of whom were jailed for 108 years each.

Although Mr Kassar was deported from Spain in 1987 as 'a threat to internal security', he resurfaced here soon afterwards, apparently with the protection of senior authorities, and was often to be seen in the casino at the posh resort of Puerto Banus, outside Marbella.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

SQL DBA (2005/2008/2012, projects, storage requirements)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

Copywriter - Corporate clients - Wimbledon

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Copywriter - London As a Copywrite...

Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried