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Wednesday, 24 November, 1999, 16:25 GMT
Al-Fayed accused of false shipping claims
Mr al-Fayed was greeted by a bizarre demonstration outside the court

Harrods owner Mohamed al-Fayed falsely painted himself as a wealthy shipping magnate in the mould of Aristotle Onassis, Neil Hamilton's QC has claimed during the former MP's "cash for questions" libel action.

Desmond Browne made the allegation as part of Mr Hamilton's case that Mr al-Fayed's commercial life was founded on a lie about the source of the funds he used to buy Harrods.

Libel Trial
Mr Browne claimed Mr al-Fayed owned only two ships - both roll-on roll-off cargo ferries - at the time of his purchase of Harrods in 1985.

Mr al-Fayed has claimed he owned about 36 ships at the time, saying the ships were owned by Dubai-registered International Marine Services, which was wholly owned by the al-Fayed Group.

Mr al-Fayed, facing his fourth day of cross-examination in the former Tatton MP's libel action, said he was a shipowner.

"Barges, supply boats, courier boats - ships right! - ships have propellers and sail on the sea," he said.

Mr Browne said: "You were painting yourself as a figure similar to Onassis."

The mystery protesters also targeted Neil and Christine Hamilton
Mr al-Fayed replied: "When I say that I'm a shipowner, I show you that I'm a shipowner, and that's it."

Mr Browne said the point was whether Mr al-Fayed was a "fairly substantial" shipowner.

Mr al-Fayed said he gave evidence to Department of Trade and Industry inspectors, who subsequently produced a highly critical report on his purchase of Harrods, that the proper value of IMS in March 1985 was 25m.

Mr Hamilton is suing Mr al-Fayed over a Channel 4 Dispatches programme in January 1997 in which he claimed that the MP had demanded and accepted cash payments, gift vouchers and a free holiday at the Paris Ritz, in return for asking parliamentary questions on behalf of Harrods.

Confetti and garlands

Mr al-Fayed, who denies libel and pleads justification, has said in evidence that Mr Hamilton received around 50,000 from him through a political lobbyist and direct cash sums of between 40,000 and 60,000.

Neil Hamilton's QC claims Mr al-Fayed tried to portray himself like Aristotle Onassis (pictured)
Turning to Mr al-Fayed's villa in St Tropez, Mr Browne said a taped conversation showed that the Harrods boss had been willing to consider paying someone half a million francs in return for planning permission.

Mr al-Fayed said that was "outrageous", saying there was no evidence to back up the claim.

The QC then moved on to Mr al-Fayed's connections with Dubai, saying that in October 1994 he was in arbitration over a claim for compensation for the termination of the management contract to the Dubai Trade Centre by a company owned by the ruling Makhtoum family.

Mr al-Fayed was due to be a witness in the proceedings, said Mr Browne, "because it was said against you that you had paid a gentleman called Ahmed Lutve over 50,000 to get him to sign some accounts for the centre".

The Harrods boss said that allegation was "absolutely untrue".

Mr al-Fayed said he did not appear at the hearing on 17 October 1994 because he had been threatened and was also "feeling unwell" because of neck and back problems.

But Mr Browne said Mr al-Fayed was filmed flying in his helicopter then being driven to Harrods on the day he was due to appear in Dubai.

Mr al-Fayed said the arbitrators had been given a medical certificate about his condition, and added he would not have been able to take the long flight to Dubai because of his health problems.

Mr Browne said Mr al-Fayed had given a "dishonest reason" for not appearing in Dubai, a claim rejected by the Harrods owner.

Mr Browne then went on to claim that Mr al-Fayed had "vindictively hunted" members of his staff with whom he had fallen out, including deputy Harrods chairman Christophe Bettermann and Peter Bolliger, the managing director of Harrods from 1990 until 1994.
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See also:
23 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed 'threatened John Major'
19 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed fury over death crash remarks
22 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed challenges Duke to sue
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