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Tuesday, 21 December, 1999, 16:39 GMT
Mobil may have sealed Hamilton's fate

The oil company's evidence may have turned the case


While the full content of the jury's deliberation in the Hamilton-Fayed case will never be known, there is much speculation the case turned on what is known as the "Mobil question".

Libel Trial
In the closing hours of courtroom proceedings Mohamed al-Fayed's counsel dropped a bombshell on the Hamilton camp.

Top libel lawyer George Carman, acting for the Harrods boss, alleged Neil Hamilton had "corruptly" demanded a 10,000 payment from the American oil company Mobil.

In doing so, Mr Carman had attempted to "[establish] corruption" on the part of the former MP for Tatton.

Breaking the allegation to the jury, Mr Carman said: "What we submit in this court is this - that the demand for payment to Mobil made by Mr Hamilton in the summer of 1989 was corrupt, just as corrupt as the money he took from Mr al-Fayed for asking Parliamentary questions."


George Carman dropped a bombshell on the Hamilton camp
He said there was a "naked" demand by Mr Hamilton to Mobil for money and claimed to submit "irresistible evidence of corruption".

If the allegation of this demand was well-founded, he said, then Mr Hamilton's claim "falls and falls completely on Mobil alone because it establishes corruption on the part of a Member of Parliament".

The former MP's counsel, Desmond Browne QC, dismissed these claims, calling events in the Mobil case "entirely proper".

Rather than making a corrupt demand, he said Mr Hamilton had enjoyed a "legitimate consultancy" which he duly declared. He had "behaved with absolute propriety" said Mr Browne.

He dismissed Mr al- Fayed's allegation as his "last throw" and a "desperate attempt to deflect attention from the hollowness of Mr al-Fayed's own case".


The 'Mobil question'
1989 Finance Bill might have penalised oil companies
Hamilton was tax specialist and sat on Commons finance committee at the time
Mobil asked Hamilton for help
Hamilton agreed to put down amendment
Carman alleged Hamilton later made 'naked' demand for money
Hamilton said he had been retained by Mobil for further duties
The "Mobil question" dates back to 1989 when Mobil, and other oil companies, were concerned about a clause in the then Finance Bill would adversely affect the amount of tax they had to pay.

According to Mr Carman, Peter Whiteman QC, a tax advisor working for Mobil at the time, suggested the company might seek help from Neil Hamilton, who was known to Mr Whiteman.

Mr Hamilton was on the Commons finance committee and had written a book on taxation.

In May that year there was a meeting between Mobil's taxation advisors and Mr Hamilton, who subsequently agreed to put down an amendment to the bill at the committee stage.

Mr Carman said some weeks later, in the summer of that year, Mr Hamilton "made an approach - as we say he made an approach to Mr al-Fayed - and the approach was, how do Mobil propose to pay?"

The company was "more than surprised, they were flabbergasted and embarrassed and shocked", said Mr Carman.

Mobil's shock

The then MP had simply moved the amendment and writen a couple of letters before asking for payment. He received 10,000 said Mr Carman, adding "nice work if you can get it".

On 25 October 1994, when allegations of the Hamilton story were in all the papers, Mobil's then taxation manager, Lionel Blumenthal, wrote to the MP expressing shock at the events in 1989.

He gave Mr Hamilton 48 hours to react after which he said he would send his letter to the Prime Minister, John Major.

In fact Mr Hamilton resigned the same day and only saw the letter when later clearing out his office.

Peter Whiteman told the jury he was "taken aback" when Mr Hamilton telephoned him about payment. Mr Blumenthal, said he was "horrified" when he heard about the payment inquiry.

Consultancy

But Mr Hamilton said he was in no doubt he was to be retained in a consultancy capacity to assist in the promotion of the amendment and to help organise a business lobby.

A letter to him from Mr Whiteman to the effect that he had strongly recommended Mobil to "retain" him reinforced this view.

No embarrassment or shock on the part of Mobil had ever been communicated to him, said Mr Hamilton.

But Mr Carman accused him of trying to "clothe your demand for payment with respectability because you are saying to my lord and the jury I did offer my services generally to Mobil as a consultant and they did agree to pay me.

"Whereas you know the truth of the matter is now, that Mobil were embarrassed at your request, you put them under a moral obligation by requesting payment and the consultancy agreement was a mere expedient."

Mr Hamilton denied that was the case.

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