Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the retired High Court judge appointed to preside over the inquest in the New Year of Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed, faces a vital question. How can she persuade Mossad to hand over its own files on the deaths?
The 200-pages of reports could cast a new light on the 1,500 witness statements and 10,000 pages of documents the Stevens inquiry has gathered in the most expensive investigation conducted by Scotland Yard into any death.
Lord Stevens has sent his ten experienced detectives on a worldwide investigation to collect evidence. But Mossad has firmly refused to give them access to their files.
Ari Ben-Menashe, a former Israeli government national security adviser, who claims he has seen the files said: “They explain many things about the intelligence presence around Diana. They reinforce her own claims she was the subject of intense scrutiny by Britain’s security services, the CIA and French intelligence. The American National Security Agency, NSA, was also involved with satellite surveillance on her”.
Lord Stevens has interviewed John Scarlett, head of MI6, and Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, director of MI5, and obtained their files which go some way to confirm Ben-Menashe’s claim. NSA has also admitted it possesses some 1,050 satellite transcripts of Diana and Dodi made in the weeks before their deaths. The agency has reportedly refused to make the documents available on the grounds that “national security is involved”.
Mossad was not interested in the relationship between Diana and Dodi. Their sole concern was to recruit Henri Paul, the assistant head of security at the Ritz Hotel in Paris from where he drove the couple to their deaths nine years ago last month.
The story of how Mossad set about recruiting Henri Paul began on June 29, 1997, exactly two months before Diana and Dodi died.
That afternoon a middle-aged man arrived in a Paris apartment near the Pompidou Centre in the lively 4th Arrondissement in Paris. The apartment was a Mossad safe house in the city.
His Swiss passport identified him as “Maurice Rubenstein”, born in Geneva. He described himself as a “financial consultant”. The details had been created by the Mossad department specialising in devising cover for its agents. Maurice was a specialist in recruiting informers.
He had come to Paris to recruit Henri Paul. To do so he was prepared to use a mixture of financial inducements, threats and blackmail.
Before coming to Paris, Maurice had spent weeks studying Mossad’s file on Henri Paul. It had been opened after Jonathan Aitken, a former Conservative government minister in charge of arms sales, had built up a raft of contacts with Middle East arms dealers. Granada Television had published a damaging report on Aitken’s activities. He has sued for libel. The case hinged on who had paid Aitken’s hotel account when he stayed at the Ritz to meet some of his Arab contacts. In court, Aitken had sworn on oath that his wife had settled the account.
Through a third-party, Mossad had tipped-off investigators acting for the defendants that Mrs Aitken had not been in Paris. The case had collapsed. Mossad, who had long regarded Aitken’s activities as a threat to Israel, had effectively destroyed him.
But Mossad needed an informer in the Ritz who would be able to report on the activities of the arms dealers. Henri Paul’s responsibility for security made every area of the Ritz open to him. “There would be no questions asked if he wanted a copy of a person’s hotel bill, no raised eyebrows if he asked to see the hotel’s telephone log to obtain details of calls made by arms dealers and their contacts”, said Ari Ben-Menashe.
“As chauffeur to VIPs, Paul would be in a good position to overhear their conversations, witness their behaviour, see where they went, whom they met”, he added.
Henri Paul was a bachelor in no permanent relationship, but liked fast cars and had learned to fly. All expensive tastes outside his 31,000 euro salary.
A Mossad psychologist had concluded there was an “inherent vulnerability” about Henri Paul. The psychologist recommended that steadily increasing pressure, linked with the promise of substantial monetary reward to finance Paul’s social life, could be the best way to recruit him.
Maurice had observed the relationship Paul had with the paparazzi. In return for cash, he provided details of the movements of celebrity guests.
The exchange of information for cash took place either in one of the bars or in the narrow Rue Cambon, where the Ritz staff entrance was situated. The meetings were secretly photographed by another Mossad agent who had joined Maurice.
By mid-August, 1997, paparazzi interest focused on the expected arrival at the Ritz of Diana and Dodi al-Fayed. They would stay in the hotel’s fabled Imperial Suite.
Henri Paul continued to provide details of the forthcoming visit to several paparazzi. He received further sums of money.
Maurice decided the time had come to make his move.
The first contact was in Harry’s Bar in the Rue Daunou. The Mossad agent struck up a conversation with Henri Paul. They arranged to meet in a few days over dinner. During the meal Paul spoke of his passion for fast cars and piloting a small aircraft. But it was difficult to enjoy those pleasures on his salary.
What followed then developed a rhythm of its own: Maurice laying down the bait and Henri Paul all too eager to take it. The hook in place, Maurice began to reel in the line.
“Maurice would have planted the idea he might be able to help, perhaps mentioning he worked for a company that was looking for ways to update its database and would pay good money to those who could help do so. This was a favourite opening gambit for Mossad recruiters on a cold-approach operation. From there, it would be a small step to tell Paul that many of the Ritz guests no doubt possessed the kind of information that would interest the company”, Ari Ben-Menashe later claimed.
Another Mossad officer told the Sunday Express last week: “Henri Paul would have been on the hook”.
He agreed Maurice’s “undoubted skills would have the essential undertow of pressure on Paul. At some stage he would have let Paul know that Mossad had evidence of Paul taking money from the paparazzi. What Maurice would have offered was the opportunity to bolster that income”.
Meantime Mossad had established the presence of MI6 and CIA agents in Paris waiting for Diana and Dodi to arrive.
“The Mossad files reveal those agents had been tracking Diana for some weeks. Their interest was to see Diana’s next moves in her campaign to have landmines banned. There was huge opposition to her campaign in the United States, Britain and elsewhere”, said Ari Ben- Menashe.
As the days drew closer to the arrival of Diana and Dodi in Paris, the pressure on Henri Paul increased to bug the Ritz for Mossad and provide details of the guests.
“Paul knew he could well end up in prison if he was found spying on the hotel’s guests. Yet, if he went to the police what could they do? If he turned down the Mossad proposition, what then? If the hotel management learned he had already betrayed that most precious of all assets the Ritz offered – confidentiality – by informing the paparazzi, he could be fired, even prosecuted”, suggested an intelligence source.
Henri Paul had been put in charge of Diana and Dodi’s security while they were in the hotel, with particular responsibility for keeping away the paparazzi. At the same time photographers were calling him on his cell phone for information about the visit and offering large sums of money to provide details. The temptation to accept was another pressure. Everywhere he turned, there seemed to be pressure.
Though he managed to conceal it, Henri Paul was unravelling mentally. His combination of drugs could only have furthered the strain on his ability to make reasoned judgments.
On the night before Henri Paul drove Diana and Dodi to their deaths, Maurice had what turned out to be his final meeting with Henri Paul.
He threatened to expose the Ritz security man’s contacts with Mossad to the service’s own informers in the Arab world – a virtual guarantee Henri Paul would be killed.
It was not the first time Mossad had used the ultimate sanction against someone who refused to cooperate.
The two men parted, leaving Henri Paul in no condition to drive his Mini – let alone the Ritz’s powerful Mercedes.
“You could say he was a dead man walking”, said a Mossad source.
In Maurice’s apartment near the Pompidou Centre, the agent was awoken by a telephone call on Sunday, August 31, 1997. The caller worked in the Paris gendarmerie accident unit and had been recruited by Mossad.
He said Henri Paul’s Mercedes sedan had struck a reinforced concrete pillar on the westbound roadway of the underpass beneath the place de l’Alma, a notorious accident spot in the city.
The dead were Diana, Dodi al-Fayed and Henri Paul. The couple’s bodyguard had been critically injured.
Hours after the accident, Maurice flew back to Tel Aviv, leaving in his wake questions that would remain unanswered.
Had Henri Paul lost control of the Mercedes because he could see no way of extricating himself from the clutches of Mossad? Was that pressure linked to the high level of prescribed drugs found in his bloodstream? When he had left the Ritz with his three passengers, had his mind continued to vacillate over what he should do about the pressure? Was he not only responsible for a terrible road accident, but also the victim of a ruthless intelligence operation?
It is those vital questions that Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss will have to address if there is to be a real closure to the story when her inquest finally opens next January.
Gordon Thomas is the author of Gideon’s Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad.He specialises in international intelligence matters.