Page last updated at 09:28 GMT, Monday, 7 April 2008 10:28 UK

Profile of Mohamed Al Fayed

Mohammed Al Fayed
Mohamed Al Fayed is one of the world's most famous businessmen

Colourful and charismatic, Mohamed Al Fayed is not just the owner of a football club and one of the highest profile shop owners in the UK.

The death of his son Dodi, alongside Diana, Princess of Wales, has thrust him even further into the public spotlight.

The loss of his son led to Mr Al Fayed feeling a deep sense of injustice, and several times he has pointed the finger at those he holds responsible for the accident.

Mr Al Fayed believes the Paris crash resulted from a conspiracy, another example of the barriers he constantly faced to gain acceptance into British society.

It is an ambition that has seen him donate millions to British charities and assume control of Harrods, the department store which was once a by-word for Britishness itself.

Why won't they give me a passport? I own Harrods and employ thousands of people in this country
Mohamed Al Fayed

He resurrected the satirical magazine Punch and also moved into the mainstream British pursuit of football, buying Fulham FC.

He was born in Alexandria, Egypt, the son of a poor school teacher. Fittingly, for a man synonymous with controversy, even his birth date is disputed.

A Department of Trade inquiry into his takeover of the House of Fraser group gave it as 27 January 1929. Yet the logbook of the rich and famous, Who's Who, has listed him as a full four years younger.

His own website also states the year of his birth as being 1933.

His career began with menial jobs, from selling lemonade on the streets of his home city to working as a sewing machine salesman.

Fiercely ambitious

The young Mr Fayed - the "Al" was added in the 1970s - oozed ambition and his lucky break came when he met businessman Adnan Khashoggi, who employed him in his Saudi Arabian import business.

Back in Egypt, he launched his own shipping business, before becoming an adviser to one of the world's richest men, the Sultan of Brunei, in 1966.

Already a wealthy and successful man, Mr Al Fayed moved to Britain in the 1970s.

He joined the board of the mining conglomerate Lonrho in 1975, but left nine months later after a disagreement.

It was the seed of a long-running feud between Mr Al Fayed and the head of Lonrho, the late Tiny Rowland.

In 1979, with his brother Ali, Mr Al Fayed bought the Paris Ritz Hotel.

Harrods - at that time subject to a Lonrho takeover campaign - became the Al Fayeds' next target. In 1985, the brothers succeeded in clinching a 615m takeover bid.

Report uncovers lies

But Tiny Rowland refused to accept defeat, mounting a bitter campaign against the Al Fayeds which resulted in a Department of Trade inquiry.

The subsequent report, issued in 1990, concluded that the Al Fayeds had lied about their background and wealth.

The feud with Mr Rowland appeared to end in 1993, when the pair came together for the cameras in Harrods food hall.

Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed
Dodi began going out with Diana a short time before they died

But Mr Rowland later accused his business rival of breaking into a safety deposit box at the store. Without admitting responsibility, Mr Al Fayed settled the dispute with Mr Rowland's wife after his death.

It has been suggested that the feud contributed to Mr Al Fayed's being refused British citizenship the first time.

He viewed that refusal as an affront, saying: "Why won't they give me a passport? I own Harrods and employ thousands of people in this country."

Further attempts to gain British citizenship have also failed.

In 1999, his application for a UK passport was rejected by Home Secretary Jack Straw, and he failed to overturn this on appeal.

Wealthy benefactor

This is despite Mr Al Fayed having four British children by his second wife and paying millions in tax. He has also given millions to charities, such as the Great Ormond Street Hospital, and financed films, including Chariots of Fire.

After his first passport refusal, Mr Al Fayed revealed he had paid two Conservative ministers - Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith - to ask questions related to his interests, in the House of Commons. Both left the government in disgrace.

Mr Hamilton had wanted to clear his name of accusations that he had accepted envelopes stuffed with cash from Mr Al Fayed in exchange for asking parliamentary questions, but subsequently lost a libel case against the businessman.

Mr Al Fayed claimed another political scalp in Jonathan Aitken, the cabinet minister who resigned after the Harrods boss revealed he had been staying free at the Ritz in Paris at the same time as Saudi arms dealers.

Aitken's downfall began in April 1995 when he decided to sue for libel over a series of allegations made against him by the Guardian and World in Action, regarding his stay at the Ritz.

When, in 1997, it emerged Dodi had become a close friend of Diana, a new avenue appeared to be opening to Mr Al Fayed's acceptance by the British establishment.

But everything changed on 31 August when Dodi and the princess were killed while being driven and guarded by Mr Al Fayed's employees.

Angry exchanges

The high alcohol level in driver Henri Paul's blood may have embarrassed Mr Al Fayed, but he laid the blame elsewhere.

This emerged in the High Court libel trial brought by Mr Hamilton - which the former MP eventually lost - following comments the Harrods boss made on a Channel 4 programme in 1997.

In court, the Harrods owner accused the Duke of Edinburgh of masterminding a conspiracy to kill the Princess of Wales and his son.

The case saw highly personal accusations flying in both directions.

Mohammed Al Fayed surrounded by photographers
Mr Al Fayed has been in the press spotlight with his conspiracy claims

In 2003 he announced that he was to leave Britain for Switzerland "with a heavy heart" because of alleged persecution by the establishment, following his inability to obtain a British passport and trouble with the tax authorities.

However, he returned in 2005, and according to his website he "regards Britain as home".

In 2008 Mr Al Fayed achieved his long-standing wish to give evidence at the inquest into the death of Princess Diana and Dodi, saying he had been "fighting for 10 years".

During his evidence he made a number of claims, including that Diana, Dodi and Henri Paul were "murdered" in an act orchestrated by MI6 on the instructions of the Duke of Edinburgh - a claim dismissed by the coroner Lord Justice Scott Baker as having "not a shred of evidence" to support it.

This alleged plot also involved former Prime Minister Tony Blair, the CIA and Sir Michael Jay, at that time the British ambassador to France.

"I am a father who lost his son," he said to the coroner.

"I am fighting unbelievable forces. But with your power as a judge, you have to force MI6 to open their box and find the result."

Mr Al Fayed also said that Diana and Dodi told him one hour before the crash that the princess was pregnant, and that the couple would announce their engagement days later.

Fayed wins block on BBC tax probe
08 Jan 04 |  Business
Al Fayed to quit UK
29 Mar 03 |  England
Al-Fayed passport snub explained
11 May 99 |  UK Politics

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