Another mystery death occurred last Wednesday in downtown London, when Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian billionaire and son-in-law of the late President Nasser, was found dead outside his flat in the posh Carlton Terrace in Central London. According to Scotland Yard investigating, no suicide note has sofar been discovered and Police are thus treating his death as “unexplained”.
Investigators are exploring three possibilities: that he was murdered by unknown assailants, he jumped to his death or, accidentally fell after losing his balance. In fact, Marwan is the third Egyptian to have jumped, or have fallen off a balcony in London in recent years.
Police issued a gag order on its investigation, indicating that all these deaths may have been shrouded in mysterious circumstances. Six years ago – in June 2001 – the famous Egyptian actress Soaud Hosni allegedly threw herself off the balcony of a residential tower in Maida Vale, North London. Before that, in the mid-1970s, General Leithy Nassif, the former head of the presidential guard under the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat also fell off a balcony in the very same tower in Maida Vale luxury district. The common link between all three deaths is that they all had intelligence connection and were rumored to have been writing their memoirs at the time of their alleged suicides.
Perhaps most prominent among the three was Ashraf Marwan. Marwan’s career and his wide-spread connections represent a feast for anyone interested in conspiracy theories. Having married Abdul Nasser’s daughter Muna shortly before the late Egyptian president died in 1970, he became President Sadat’s closest personalpolitical aide in the early 1970s, and later head of Egypt’s Military Industry Organization before moving to London in the 1980s where he became a billionaire.
Ashraf Marwan was a man of immense wealth who owned luxury Mediterranean hotels, had shares in the Chelsea soccer club and associated with the notorious international arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, the controversial business tycoon Tiny Rowland and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. However it was the allegation – made public for the first time four years ago – that he was a secret agent for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war that put him in the spotlight. In 2004, retired major general Eli Zeira, head of Israel’s military intelligence during the Yom Kippur War, had alleged that Marwan was recruited by the Israeli intelligence, Mossad, a year before Nasser died, but allegedly acted in fact, as double agent to the two countries.
After the near-disastrous Yom Kippur War, in which Israel was caught unprepared for an Egyptian and Syrian attack, the Israeli Agranat commission of inquiry laid much of the blame on General Zeira and the Military Intelligence. Retired General Zeira sought to protect his professional and personal reputation for decades. Fourteen years ago in his biographical book “Myth Versus Reality: The Yom Kippur War” he revealed Israel had had an unidentified “senior agent” or “source” operated by the Mossad in Egypt. The spy, until then known by the code word “Babel,” seems to have warned Israel of the coming war, just hours ahead of Egypt’s attack. But the warning was ignored because Military Intelligence believed the spy was really a double agent deliberately planting falsified information on the “H” Hour of the Egyptian cross-Suez Canal attack.
When Ashraf Marwan was finally identified as “Babel” in foreign newspaper reports in 2003, retired General Zvi Zamir, chief of Mossad during the Yom Kippur War, accused General Zeira of revealing the identity of a secret agent. General Zeira reacted by filing a libel suit against Mr. Zamir in 2004, which he lost just three weeks ago when a retired Supreme Court justice ruled he had in fact told several reporters and historians the name of Mossad’s top agent in Egypt.
According to Israeli media reports, Mr. Marwan approached the Israeli embassy in London in 1969 and volunteered to spy for Israel. But his offer was turned down for fear he was a plant. But he was later recruited by Mossad. Two days before the October, 1973, Yom Kippur War, Mr. Marwan contacted his Mossad handler in Cairo and whispered a code-word warning of imminent war. He then flew to London, where he met Mr. Zamir, the Mossad head and told him Egypt and Syria were planning to go to war the next day, giving the “H” Hour as 1800 on Saturday October 6. But the Egyptian army started the Yom Kippur war at 1400 hours, six crucial hours before Marwan’s warning! This difference, and other signs, have sparked the ever since controversial discussion, whether Ashraf Marwan was a genuine or “double” agent serving both sides.
Marwan’s friends told Arab media that the 63-year-old Marwan had been considerably upset in recent weeks, after Justice Theodor Or’s ruling had linked his name directly with Israeli intelligence. “He believed that there were official Egyptian sources behind this media campaign against him, and that behind it all there were plans to harm him,” his friends said. But on the other hand, Egypt’s state-controlled media last week praised Ashraf Marwan, saying he received the highest honor for his “services” during the 1973 October war. As for the usual allegations, blaming Mossad on Marwan’s untimely death, it has no reason to do this. In fact, for decades, Mossad chiefs staunchly adhered to its version, that Ashraf Marwan was a trustworthy agent.
But there are other theories cropping up in the media, since Marwan’s “jump” from his balcony last Wednesday. Mr Ashraf Marwan’s name was linked with claims of years in his illicit weapons trading activities throughout the Middle East. He was also rumored to be a close associate of the maverick Mohamed al-Fayad, owner of Harrods and father of Dodi, Princess Diana’s companion who died with her in the still controversial car crash in Paris. According to press reports, Marwan was said to be the principal player in the Tiny Rowland versus al-Fayed war over the House of Fraser which owned Harrods. In his book “Who Killed Diana?” Simon Regan an investigative journalist and author of biographies of Prince Charles and Princess Margaret, dedicated a special chapter in his book to Marwan. Regan is cited saying that: ‘Cold journalistic logic brings one to the inevitable conclusion that Ashraf Marwan made the most perfect double agent for nearly all of the Mid-eastern and Western espionage agencies.
So did Mr Marwan die a “natural” death or was he “helped” by some mysterious circumstances to silence the controversy between the two nations, already at peace since 1979? It is known, that during the past few years Marwan was busy writing his memoirs and said that the book would be titled “October 1973 – What took place.” His book was expected to shed light on his activities in the Egyptian leadership and on the claims that he was a Mossad agent. If he did address this issue in his memoirs, he probably would have denied the charges.
No doubt, London investigators are searching for the manuscript, which could perhaps shed some light on the mystery. It may, or not be coincidental, that only last March, a similar mysterious death occurred in Russia, when the outspoken journalist Ivan Safronov died allegedly after falling from the fifth floor of his Moscow apartment building. But is it not an undeniable fact that too many controversial celebrities seem to be jumping off balconies lately?
- Russian Journalist Mystery: Is Kremlin Perturbed over new Mid East Gambit?
- Also from David Eshel – 1967 Six Days War Retrospect: How the Kremlin Manipulated the 1967 War to the Brink of Nuclear Conflict