Britain opens inquest into unsolved death of Egyptian businessman suspected of spying

Monday, July 12, 2010

Inquest starts into death of Egyptian spy suspect

LONDON — The widow of a wealthy Egyptian businessman suspected of involvement in Middle East espionage told an inquest into his unexplained death on Monday that her husband had expressed fears that his life was in danger.

Ashraf Marwan, 62, fell to his death from the balcony of his apartment in an exclusive London street in June 2007. An inquest was opened to determine whether he died by suicide, accident or foul play.

Marwan was the son-in-law of former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and a trusted aide to Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat.

Historians and intelligence agents have accused him of being an Israeli spy who passed on vital information before the 1973 Yom Kippur War — or of being a double agent loyal to Egypt.

His widow, Mona Nasser, told the inquest at a London court that in the last two years of his life Marwan became more concerned about his safety, and spoke of unnamed “enemies.”

“He always said ‘My life is in danger,’” she said. “But he was a risk-taker.”

She said that the last time she saw her husband, about a week before his death, he told her: “‘I might be killed.’”

Nasser said Marwan, who suffered from heart trouble and other health problems and used a cane to walk, had never talked about suicide.

“Never,” she said. “Never in 40 years, not once.

“He was so happy to be retired,” she added. “You know, slowing down in work, enjoying his grandchildren.”

Marwan moved to London after the 1981 assassination of Sadat and kept a low profile as a wealthy businessman.

In 2002, he was named in a book by Israeli historian Ahron Bregman as a spy who had tipped off Israel about the coming Yom Kippur invasion.

Israeli media later reported that he had in fact been a double agent who fed false, misleading information to the Israelis about the war, which began when Egypt and Syria launched a two-pronged attack on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. Israel was nearly defeated, but ultimately prevailed.

Marwan was decorated by the Egyptian state for his role in the war. His funeral in Cairo was attended by high-profile mourners, including President Hosni Mubarak’s son, Gamal.

Nasser said in an interview published Sunday that she believed the Israeli spy agency was responsible for her husband’s death.

“He knew they were coming after him,” she was quoted as saying by The Observer newspaper. “He was killed by Mossad.”

In Britain, inquests must be held any time someone dies unexpectedly, violently or of unknown causes. The goal is to determine the facts rather than to blame any individuals.

The inquest, heard by coroner William Dolman, is due to last three days.

Associated Press writer Jill Lawless contributed to this report.

will not be displayed