`Scandal? Nothing to do with me,' insists furious Fayed

Andrew Buncombe@AndrewBuncombe
Thursday 06 May 1999 23:02

AS SHOPPERS browsed in Harrods to the accompaniment of a pianist's cheesy version of Don't Cry for Me Argentina, Mohamed Al Fayed, upstairs in his office, was spitting blood. "Of course he is very angry, but we will be appealing," his spokesman said. "They say it was because of the safe deposit box business and the cash for questions. They said that because he had lived here for 35 years he should have known better. Well those politicians didn't seem to know better."

For five years, Mr Fayed has fought for a British passport and the acceptance by the British establishment he believes such a passport would confer. Having had his hopes boosted last March when a similar application by his brother, Ali, was accepted, Mr Fayed would be forgiven for thinking this was his turn. He had even allowed Kevin Keegan, the manager of his football club, Fulham, to take control of the England team. But yesterday his hopes for a reward were dashed.

Having spat and calmed down, Mr Fayed emerged a little later, smiling and pumping hands on the steps of his upmarket superstore. No, of course, it wasn't a problem, he grimaced. No, he wasn't going anywhere. He had an Egyptian passport - from the finest country in the world. And anyway, those politicians and the shadowy figures behind them were all zombies.

As a display of look-how-I'm-not-bothered, it was not particularly convincing.

While the Home Office refused to comment on its reasons for refusing his second application, Mr Fayed revealed it had centred on his involvement in two scandals. The first was the rifling, four years ago, of a Harrods safe deposit box belonging to the store's former owner and his arch rival, the late Tiny Rowland. The second was the cash for questions affair, in which he admitted paying MPs to ask questions in Parliament on his behalf.

In a statement he later issued, Mr Fayed claimed it was "perverse" for the Home Office to regard the safety deposit incident as relevant to his application. He said he had been told that following a decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute him, the matter would be disregarded. "The Home Secretary has accepted my version of events that my involvement in this incident was very limited," he said.

Regarding the cash for questions incident, he had made no secret of his payments to MPs which he had been advised was a "normal activity". "[Mr Straw] seems to have decided that making a payment in cash is in itself evidence of conscious impropriety. This shows a blindness as to the habits ... of the culture in which I was raised, which is regrettable in an avid supporter of multi-culturalism," the statement said.

The decision to grant his brother a passport will undoubtedly fuel wild speculation that Mr Fayed has been the victim of a conspiracy, involving the Government, the secret intelligence service and the Royal Family. Some still resent his success in buying in 1985 the Knightsbridge store.

Inside Harrods yesterday, it was business as usual as hordes of shoppers flooded up the bizarrely titled Egyptian Escalators with the wafting sound of Lord Lloyd-Webber's show tunes. But outside there was a sense of bewilderment. "I cannot understand you people," said Nona Gregory, from Pennsylvania. "If you don't like this man, you should not have let him buy the store." Mr Fayed would have endorsed her views. Instead he had to console himself with his birthright. "I live with my Egyptian passport, which is the most fantastic civilisation and the most fantastic country in the world."

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