Aitken's reputation `butchered' by claims of pimping for Arabs

Kim Sengupta
Wednesday 04 June 1997 23:02

The personal, political and professional reputation of the former Tory minister Jonathan Aitken was "butchered" by allegations of pimping for Arabs and illegal arms trading, the High Court heard yesterday.

Mr Aitken, formerly Defence Procurement Minister and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was the victim of a national newspaper and a television company collaborating to mount "a sustained attack on his good name, his honour, and his integrity", his counsel, Charles Gray QC told the court.

The allegations printed in the Guardian in 1995 and broadcast on Granada television's World in Action programme were "totally false and ludicrous," said Mr Gray. Mr Aitken is claiming libel damages.

The articles and the documentary had claimed Mr Aitken provided prostitutes for highly-placed Saudis.

Mr Gray stated they inferred that "in effect, Mr Aitken had placed himself in a position where he was in the pocket of the Saudi Royal Family.

"He had become so financially dependent on the Saudi royals that the point had been reached where he had lost his independence, which is essential to the proper discharge of his responsibilities as an MP and Minister of the Crown.

"Over a considerable period of time, he deliberately concealed from his own constituents in Thanet, from the electorate in general, and the public at large, the connection he had with the Saudi royal family." Mr Gray said it had been further claimed that at the height of the Iran-Iraq war, Mr Aitken had offered to help a company called Astra Holdings Ltd sell arms to both sides, and as a non-executive director of another company, BMARC to sell naval cannons to Iran.

Mr Aitken was accused of having asked employees of a health hydro on two separate occasions 15 years ago to procure prostitutes for Arab clients who were staying there.

"That is an accusation of pimping for Arabs on two separate occasions."

The allegations of procuring call-girls reached the ears of John Major. He was told that Mohamed Al Fayed, the owner of Harrods and one of the sources for the Guardian and Granada programme, was in possession of a file on Mr Aitken with proof that he was "whoring" for the Saudis and owned two model agencies which provided prostitutes.

Mr Al Fayed was also the owner of a luxury hotel in Paris, the Ritz, where the television company and newspaper alleged Mr Aitken attended a clandestine business meeting and then lied about who had paid his hotel bill.

Mr Gray said: "The gravest charge is that he misconducted himself as a minister in flagrant defiance of the rules governing ministerial conduct and while Minister of Defence Procurement, he conducted private business deals with an arms company called Future Management Services Ltd.

"The defendants [the Guardian and Granada television] say that on separate occasions, while a Minister of the Crown, he attended clandestine business meetings in the Ritz Hotel, Paris ... and there was doubt about who paid his bill."

The court was told that other claims pursued by the defendants had been abandoned in the last 36 hours. Mr Gray said: "One of the most offensive allegations is that Mr Aitken nearly 20 years ago interviewed young women notionally as air hostesses, but in fact to act as prostitutes for Arabs.

"Another ludicrous allegation which had been abandoned was that Mr Aitken had been present on occasions at the house of a Saudi prince in Hampstead, north-west London, in the company of prostitutes." Mr Gray said many of the allegations stemmed from Mr Al Fayed. Others came from Valerie Scott, a former secretary of Mr Aitken and from Robin Kirk and Jo Lambert, former employees of his at the health hydro, Inglewood, in Berkshire. Mr Aitken is expected to give evidence today.

The case continues.

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