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28 Jun, 2007 20:08

Egyptian ‘double agent’ found dead in London

British police are investigating the death of an Egyptian billionaire whose body was found outside his Mayfair flat in London on Wednesday. Ashraf Marwan, a financier, died amid controversy about his role in the intelligence and business worlds.

Mr Marwan, the son-in-law of former Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser, was part of the inner circle of Nasser’s successor – Anwar Sadat, who started the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Also known as the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, it was fought for 20 days between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria.

Ashraf Marwan was suspected of tipping off the Israelis about the start of the war. Allegations were first made against him in a book published in 2004 by Eli Zeira, the Israeli military intelligence chief at the time of the conflict. He claimed that in 1969 Mr Marwan tried to warn the Israeli authorities in London about the planned attack, but was ignored. Later he was allegedly recruited by Israeli intelligence service, Mossad. Some believe he was a double agent.

“There are very serious high-ranked people in Israeli intelligence claiming that he was part of the Egyptian deception plan.  On the other hand there are people from Mossad claiming he was a reliable agent. This claim was checked, rechecked and investigated. And all the committees that were assembled to check the reliability of the agent came up with one answer: that he was a reliable and pro-Israeli agent in that sense,” said Dr Ronen Berman, an investigative reporter from the Israeli daily newspaper,Yediot Aharonot.

In the 1970s, Mr Marwan was the head of Egypt's government-owned military industry facility. Twenty-five years ago, after retiring, he moved to the UK to work in private business.

His name was linked at one time with claims of illegal weapons trading in the Middle East.

The billionaire owned property across the globe, but his friends say he considered London his main home. Carlton House Terrace is one of the most prestigeous addresses in London. It was in the garden there that his body was found under the balcony of his fourth-floor-apartment.

The police are treating it as an unexplained death. Nevertheless, those who knew the man say he was a generous friend and neighbour, a true gentleman and a man of honour. They find it hard to believe it was suicide.

Israeli newspapers offer their own version of events with headlines like: “Spy thrown from the porch of his house”.

However, the post-mortem on Friday should provide some answers on the death of a man whose name has suddenly raised so many questions.