Who has the right to publish the diaries?: A Swiss banker and Nazi sympathiser, who claims all rights to Goebbels's writings, may spell trouble for the Sunday Times. Brian Cathcart reports

IN A comfortable suburb of the Swiss city of Lausanne, close to the shores of Lake Geneva, lives a retired banker who claims to own the rights to all the writings of Joseph Goebbels. Francois Genoud, 76, has in the past successfully established his claim in courts elsewhere in Europe, and his shadow must now loom over the Sunday Times's controversial plans to serialise the Goebbels diaries.

Mr Genoud, who is Swiss, is an open admirer of Adolf Hitler. He once met the Fuhrer and remains in touch with the dwindling band of his surviving associates. He rarely speaks publicly or gives interviews, but he is reported to have provided funds to help Nazis and neo-Nazi activities. He was said to have financed the defence of Klaus Barbie, the Lyons Gestapo chief tried in France in 1987, and he has admitted links with Arab extremists opposed to the state of Israel.

David Irving, the historian acting for the Sunday Times in Moscow, knows Mr Genoud well and has in the past signed at least one contract with him relating to Goebbels material. But Andrew Neil, the editor of the Sunday Times, denied his newspaper had any dealings with Mr Genoud and said no payment had been, or would be, made to him. 'We have not made any payments to this man,' he insisted. He also denied knowledge of any deal between Mr Genoud and Mr Irving.

The association between Francois Genoud and the Goebbels estate became public in the 1970s after a substantial, but still incomplete, version of the diaries was brought to light by a West German author, Erwin Fischer. Mr Fischer struck a deal with the publishing house Hoffmann und Campe, which brought out a first section of the diaries in 1977, covering part of the year 1945.

At this point Mr Genoud intervened, telling Hoffmann und Campe that he was the rightful owner of the copyright to this material and had control over its use. These rights had been assigned to him by a member of the Goebbels family, probably Harald, the son of Goebbels's wife, who held the copyright under German law. Mr Genoud pressed the case through the German courts and eventually secured a settlement in his favour. Hoffmann und Campe accepted his claim, although Mr Fischer continued to dispute it vigorously.

Publication of the diaries ceased and the diary material was passed to the German Institute for Contemporary History in Munich. No further extracts from the diaries were made public while the Institute prepared a full and authoritative edition of the material in its hands. This began appearing in 1987 and covers, with some gaps, the years 1924-41 and 1945. In the interim, however, extracts from the diary covering the years 1939-41 surfaced in cloak- and-dagger circumstances in London in 1981 and were bought by Hamish Hamilton. Again Mr Genoud threatened to sue, saying the material had been stolen. He visited London to press his claim, but publication went ahead.

Before last week's revelations in the Independent about the discovery of the complete Goebbels text in an archive in Moscow, one further fragment of the diary had appeared, and again Mr Genoud was involved. A missing segment covering six months in 1938 surfaced recently in Italy, and a publishing house there has asked David Irving to prepare an edition. In that case, Mr Irving took care to reach a contractual arrangement with Mr Genoud.

In London yesterday, Andrew Neil challenged Mr Genoud to take the Sunday Times to court if he felt copyright was being breached. 'We are going ahead and publishing,' he said.

It is certain that Mr Genoud's known views would not endear him to a British court. Two years ago, he gave a rare interview to the Independent on Sunday, in which he was asked whether he was a Nazi. 'I was Swiss. I was never a member. But, like millions of people I had sympathies with the ideology.' Did he still have those sympathies? 'Yes.'

Goebbels is not the only leading Nazi whose writings he seeks to control. He claims rights relating to Martin Bormann, and in 1952 he signed a contract with Hitler's sister, Paula, giving him the rights to certain Hitler notes. 'I did it for Hitler,' he said in 1990. 'I think he's a very great man. All those who say he was not will soon be forgotten. Stalin will be forgotten. Churchill will be forgotten, but Hitler will never be forgotten. I met him once, in 1932, before he came to power. I was very impressed. He spoke a few words to me, telling me my generation would have to construct a new Europe.'

Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi- hunter, has said of Mr Genoud: 'This man is a friend of all the neo-Nazis. He gave the Eichmann family their defence lawyer.'

His connections with Arab groups goes back, it is thought, to the days of the FLN war against French rule in Algeria, when he set up a bank in Geneva to support the FLN leadership. In 1982 his name was linked with Carlos, then the world's most wanted terrorist, when he provided help for a known associate of Carlos who was on trial in France.

Pieces of a Nazi jigsaw

Before the discovery in Moscow of what is thought to be the only complete set of Goebbels diaries, five partial versions had been published in the West.

In 1934 Goebbels published an abridged edition of his diaries to date.

In 1948 a US journalist, Louis Lochner, published The Goebbels Diaries, based on fragments of work found among scattered papers in Berlin.

In 1977 the German writer Erwin Fischer, and the publishers Hoffmann und Campe, published a segment of the diaries of uncertain provenance, covering events in 1945. An English edition also appeared. This was intended to be the first of several volumes, but Mr Genoud halted production.

In 1981 Hamish Hamilton published The Goebbels Diaries 1939-41. Again, the provenance of the papers was unknown.

In 1987 the German Institute for Contemporary History began publishing a full edition of all the diary material in its possession. This edition was approved by Mr Genoud. Four volumes have appeared.

Irving the historian, page 24

(Photograph omitted)

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