Fayed, the spies and the $20m plot to show Palace was behind Diana's death

Harrods owner sues over attempt to sell him papers claiming to prove MI6 agents killed Dodi and princess LInks, reports and background: more on Al Fayed

Stuart Millar and Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles
Friday July 23, 1999

Mohamed Al Fayed has launched a $6m legal action in a US court against three men claiming CIA connections who tried to sell him forged documents purporting to prove that Diana, Princess of Wales, and his son, Dodi, were murdered in a Buckingham Palace-approved MI6 assassination plot.

In an extraordinary twist to the Diana affair that could have come straight from the pages of John Le Carré, documents lodged with the Los Angeles superior court this week reveal the details of an elaborate plan to extort $20m (£12.8m) from the Harrods owner by offering him fake CIA telexes about preparations by British agents to murder Diana and her boyfriend. They also offered a bogus medical certificate stating that Diana was pregnant when she died.

Named in the legal action are Keith Fleer, an eminent Beverly Hills lawyer, Pat McMillan, an alleged former CIA agent, and George Williamson, an investigative reporter.

But the scam also involved at least two other characters claiming high-level experience of international espionage. One, Oswald Le Winter, an Austrian-born American who claims to have been a high-ranking CIA officer, is serving four years in an Austrian jail for his part in the plot. The other, Karl Koecher, a notorious Czech agent during the cold war, is being pursued by the Austrian authorities.

Since the fatal car crash in Paris on August 31 1997, Mr Fayed has claimed that the deaths of his son and the princess were not accidental, alleging a murder conspiracy orchestrated by British intelligence. His spokesman, Laurie Mayer, said last night the legal action did not mean that the Harrods owner had changed his mind about the cause of the deaths. Instead, it was a response to the failure of the US authorities to prosecute those involved in the scam.

'It is over 15 months since these very serious criminal offences were committed, but the US authorities have done absolutely nothing,' Mr Mayer said. 'Nor have they been able to explain their lack of action, so he felt he was left with no option but to pursue a civil case.'

The court papers allege that in late 1997 or early 1998, Le Winter, McMillan and Williamson hatched a plan to forge intelligence documents discussing the assassination of Diana. They intended to approach the National Inquirer tabloid offering the documents for sale for $1m, and approached Fleer to act as a 'seemingly legitimate front man' to broker the deal.

He agreed to get involved, but advised that a more lucrative idea would be to approach the Harrods boss direct. To back up his suggestion, he produced a newspaper clipping stating that Mr Fayed was willing to pay up to $20m for information concerning the death of his son and the princess. The group agreed, and the $20m price tag was set.

Fleer had a series of telephone conversations in early April last year with the Harrods security chief, John McNamara. According to the court papers, Fleer claimed he had been approached by 'reliable individuals with credible information that the deaths of Dodi Fayed and the princess were not accidental but in fact were the product of a carefully planned assassination carried out at the behest of British intelligence with the knowledge and aquiescence of Buckingham Palace'.

Fleer told McNamara that reliable CIA sources had documentary evidence that one of the organisation's agents based in Europe had been contacted by an MI6 agent asking for help to put together the assassination team. The CIA operative cabled headquarters for instructions and received a telex in return indicating that the CIA was not to become involved but authorising the agent to pass on to MI6 the name of a contact with a Mossad-affiliated 'K-team' based in Switzerland.

As well as the telexes, Fleer indicated that his sources could supply the medical document indicating Diana was pregnant and a foreign intelligence collection report which claimed that Buckingham Palace was 'seriously disturbed' by the princessÕs relationship with Dodi, and that Prince Philip saw it as a 'threat to the dynasty'. For an additional seven-figure cash payment, they could also make available the report of an internal CIA investigation into the organisation's involvement in the assassination. A new price of $15m was set. But Mr McNamara did not take the bait. The US authorities were called in, and an elaborate sting operation swung into operation, coordinated by the FBI.

On April 14, Mr Fayed transferred $25,000 into a bank account in Las Cruse, New Mexico, as an 'advance' to the conspirators. The money was collected by Williamson.

Fleer and Mr McNamara then discussed where the handover of the documents would take place; the authorities wanted it on US soil, the conspirators wanted Prague. In the end, they agreed on Vienna.

The court papers allege that Fleer instructed Mr McNamara that the balance of the purchase price was to be deposited at an Austrian bank, Kredit Anstalt, in an anonymous passbook account.

On April 22 last year, following Freer's instructions, Mr McNamara went to the Hotel Ambassador in Vienna, taking a table on the Kartner Strasse side. At 2.30pm, he was approached by one of the principals, calling himself George Mearah, but who later turned out to be Le Winter.

A further meeting was arranged for later in the afternoon, at which Le Winter was arrested by the Austrian security services supported by the FBI. But at least two associates escaped, one of whom is believed to be Karl Koecher, a well-known figure in the espionage world. He was jailed in the US on spying charges for the Czechs but in 1985 was released to walk across the Potsdam bridge into East Berlin while, in a dramatic cold war exchange, the Soviet dissident Natan Scharansky walked west.

The booking for the room at the Hotel Stadt Bamberg used by Le Winter was in Koecher's name and he is believed to have been involved in setting up the passbook account. Koecher is not named in the action because he is believed to be in the Czech Republic.

In Le Winter's hotel room, police found a US government document pouch containing the forged CIA documents, a pistol with ammunition and $10,000 in cash. The involvement of Le Winter adds another bizarre element to the affair. He claims to have been a high-ranking CIA agent, and was involved as an intelligence consultant in the film The Double Maltese Cross, which alleged that the Lockerbie bombing was carried out by Syria, not Libya. However, at the time of the film - ironically, financed by Mr Fayed's late arch-rival Tiny Rowland - the CIA said he had never been 'an agent or an asset' and was merely an ambitious hoaxer.

In October last year, he was jailed by a court in Vienna for 30 months, later increased to four years, for attempted criminal fraud.

In the United States, a criminal investigation by the FBI is taking place into the allegations of extortion and wire fraud, according to sources close to the case.

The investigation is specifically in connection with the $25,000 sent to New Mexico but has also covered the allegations of extortion of up to $20m. But Mr Fayed now claims that the CIA has intervened to prevent the authorities from prosecuting the men in an attempt to mask its involvement in the affair.

In a further twist, Le Winter has since claimed, during two meetings with the Harrods head of security, that although the papers shown to Mr Fayed were forgeries, they were copies of real documents held by the CIA.

Lisa Prager, an assistant US attorney responsible for the case, said she could not comment 'on the case or the lack of a case'. However, she confirmed that federal agents had been present in Vienna when Le Winter was arrested.

As yet those named in the suit have not responded but they have until August 19 to do so. Yesterday Fleer would not comment when contacted at his Los Angeles office.

Mr Fayed is seeking $6m in damages, claiming fraud, negligent misrepresentation, conspiracy and unjust enrichment.

The case will be heard later this year.

How scam was set up

Conspirators claiming British intelligence murdered Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed produced three forged CIA documents as proof.

The conspirators claimed that a CIA agent in Europe had been contacted by an MI6 operative asking for help in assembling an assassination team.

The non-existent CIA agent had telexed his headquarters in Langley, Virginia, asking for instructions, and had received another telex in reply stating that the CIA was not to be involved but authorising him to pass on to MI6 the name of a contact for a Mossad-linked team in Switzerland.

The two telexes were the basis of the bogus evidence offered to Mr Fayed. Another fake document claimed Buckingham Palace had aquiesced in the MI6 plot. The documents were originally offered to Mr Fayed for $20m, but the price dropped to $15m.


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