The Daily Telegraph Magazine
20 June 1998
FAYED'S FORGOTTEN YEARS:
THE CONMAN, THE DICTATOR AND THE CIA FILES
'Sheikh' Mohamed Fayed's stay in Haiti lasted less than six months. But during that time he managed to attract the attention of the CIA who thought he might be a spy, and swindle Papa Doc's government out of more than $100,000 while at the same time courting his daughter. Then, wisely, the 35-year-old future owner of Harrods left the country.
Report by Daniel Sanger and Julian Feldman
LIKE ANYWHERE, Haiti to those who live there is the centre of the universe - it's just a question of being in the right place and looking from the right angle. The world, however, has a different idea. As the first black republic slides precipitously down the United Nations Human Development Index, its slapstick parliament enters its ninth month without a prime minister and its once eminently civil society disintegrates, corroded by cocaine, corruption and poverty, it seems to have been forgotten by everybody else.
But last year, when the world was grieving at the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi, Haitians did have a claim on one of humanities momentous events. For those who had survived long enough to remember back to 1964, the name Fayed filtering through the cables of Port-au-Prince's shoestring radio stations rang bells. They thought, it can't be - there must be hundreds of Fayeds out there. Then Dodi's dad was given a first name - Mohamed. It had to be him. And when they finally saw him on television at the funeral they knew. He'd shed some hair and the Sheikh from Kuwait act, he'd added a few inches in the wrong places and an Al between his names. But there he was, the sweet-talking wheeler-dealer who blew into Haiti in its darkest days, promising the moon and bamboozling everyone in his path, sweeping the Duvaliers off their feet and taking off again six months later, a whole lot richer and a legend in a country with no shortage of unbelievable stories. There he was, more than three decades
later, the sheikh sans provisions.
Those who recognised him began musing. Had Fayed not hoodwinked Haiti and then hightailed it - had he, for instance, been thrown into Fort Dimanche prison and left to die like others who had crossed 'Papa Doc' Duvalier - it could have all been so different.
The official version of Mohamed Fayed's life is full of Egyptian aristocrats and nannies, cotton plantations and private schools, shipping fleets and fortunes to float them. The real tale, however, is much like Haiti's - captivating, mysterious and by no means short of intrigue or hints of danger.