Mohamed Al Fayed: Egyptian-born tycoon was never far from controversy


Mohamed Al Fayed: Egyptian-born tycoon was never far from controversy

Mohamed Fayed has died at the age of 94 – or 90, if his claim he was born in 1933 was to be believed.

As with a lot of his life, the truth was tangled up in the narrative he built around himself.

The Egyptian-born businessman was, depending on which version of history you believe, either heir to a shipping fortune or the son of a poor teacher.

The latter is the version supported by a Department of Trade inquiry into allegations of dodgy business dealings in a report that put his birthday as 27 January 1929.

Even the name he went by after moving to England – Mohamed Al Fayed – was embellished, the “Al” a late addition.

Mohamed Al Fayed: Egyptian-born tycoon was never far from controversy

Then there were the conflicting accounts over sexual assault allegations against him, and of course his version of what happened in the tunnel where his son Dodi died in a car crash alongside Princess Diana in 1997.

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Dodi was the only child from his first marriage to Samira Khashoggi, which lasted from 1954 to 1956. In 1985 he married Finnish model Heini Wathen, with whom he had four children.

Relationship to the royals

Mr Al Fayed was reportedly the matchmaker behind the romance between his son Dodi and Diana, inviting the princess and her two sons to join him on his yacht in the south of France in the summer of 1997.

It wasn’t the first time she had met Dodi, but it was here their relationship gained momentum – enough for them to take a private cruise around Sardinia before the holiday’s fateful conclusion in Paris.

Enough, too, for Mohamed Al Fayed to claim the couple were engaged and Diana was pregnant with Dodi’s child.

Mohamed Al Fayed: Egyptian-born tycoon was never far from controversy

This belief was central to his theory that their deaths had been orchestrated by the royal family because they could not bear a Muslim being step-father to the future king.

He told a 2008 inquest that Prince Philip, Prince Charles and the French and British intelligence services were part of the murder plot.

The judge ruled the pair were unlawfully killed by the grossly negligent driving of their chauffeur, who was speeding and had been drinking, and paparazzi photographers pursuing them. The hospital found no evidence Diana was pregnant.

Bid for Britishness

Mr Al Fayed’s bid to set up his son with Diana was the culmination of a years-long campaign to embed himself in British society and royal circles.

It’s thought Dodi Fayed first met Diana at a polo match in 1986 where he was playing on the team opposite Charles. He was regularly pictured with the princess at social functions in the years afterwards.

Mr Al Fayed also took a 50-year lease on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s house in Paris. He spent millions restoring the former home of Edward and Wallis Simpson.

Mohamed Al Fayed: Egyptian-born tycoon was never far from controversy

And of course he bought Harrods in the 1980s, a shop which had at that point enjoyed decades of royal custom and was a byword for Britishness.

He was twice denied British citizenship. He applied for a passport in 1995 and again in 1999, but failed to pass the “good character” test required by the Home Office.

Cash for questions

Part of the reason he was denied a passport was because of the “cash for questions” payments he had made to MPs.

Mr Al Fayed paid two Conservative MPs £2,000 each to ask questions in Parliament on Harrods’ behalf. The MPs received the cash in brown envelopes and failed to declare the payments.

The story broke in 1994, when he gave the politicians’ names to the press, but the questions were asked in the late 1980s.

Mohamed Al Fayed: Egyptian-born tycoon was never far from controversy

Sexual assault allegations

Mr Al Fayed faced a number of sexual assault and harassment allegations.

In 1997, several former Harrods employees told ITV’s The Big Story their stories of harassment, from being groped and kissed to having cash stuffed in their bra. He denied the allegations.

In 2008, Mr Al Fayed was accused of indecent assault against a 15-year-old girl, which he again denied.

Ten years after the incident, the woman shared her story on a Channel 4 Dispatches programme. She said she was 15 when she was offered a job at Harrods and then showered with gifts by Mr Al Fayed. He then tried to force himself on her and kiss her, she said.

The Crown Prosecution Service decided the evidence was conflicting and not sufficiently reliable, and dropped the case.

Another woman who featured in the documentary said she was forced to undergo a full medical and STI check when she was hired at Harrods and claimed Mr Al Fayed asked her to sleep with him, on one occasion becoming forceful.

She sued him for sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination and was made an offer of £60,000, which she accepted.

Mr Al Fayed also faced a rape allegation in 2013, which was reinvestigated by police in 2015 but did not lead to any charges.


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