Princess Diana’s death … 20 years ago … The two A’s: Accident or Assassination? …

  This year – Thursday, August 31, 2017 – it will be remembered worldwide that on that day in 1997, twenty years into the past, a Mercedes S280, bearing the number plate 688 LTV 75, smashed into one of the pillars supporting the overpass of a Paris tunnel, the Pont Alma underpass. Nothing unusual about […]

The car accident which had robbed Princess Diana of her life happened in a tunnel underneath this sculpture. (copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

 

This year – Thursday, August 31, 2017 – it will be remembered worldwide that on that day in 1997, twenty years into the past, a Mercedes S280, bearing the number plate 688 LTV 75, smashed into one of the pillars supporting the overpass of a Paris tunnel, the Pont Alma underpass.

Nothing unusual about that. Vehicles are involved in accidents every day in Paris. We, who live in Paris, know this: we know what Paris drivers are like. For example, we know that when waiting at a red light to make sure that, when the light switches to green, all incoming vehicles have stopped, before we step off the kerb.

But, that August night, twenty years ago, what was out of the ordinary about that Pont Alma Underpass crash was the identity of the two rear seat passengers: Princess Diana and her new lover. He was Emad El-Din Mohamed Abdel Moneim Al Fayed – Dodi – eldest son of one of Britain’s wealthiest men, billionaire Mohamed Abdel Moneim Al Fayed, and of Samira Kashoggi, sister of billionaire arms dealer and businessman, Adnan Kashoggi.

Since July of that year, this romance between the Princess – mother of a future Christian king of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and a scattering of other smaller nations – and the Moslem Dodi, had featured on many front pages of not only the London dailies but so too of newspapers across the globe. Whereas in most countries the romance was heralded as a new life for the “sad” Princess who had been rejected by her husband, Heir to the Throne Prince Charles, because he was in love with the married and by no means physically attractive Camilla Parker Bowles, the reaction in the U.K. was of utter dismay. “How could she”, was on the lips of the subjects of Queen Elizabeth 11 – Prince Charles’s mother and thus Diana’s former mother-in-law.

Diana was so beautiful, so very English, whereas he was an oily Arab, a Wog – a woolly-haired oriental gentleman. Not that the word gentleman was being used in this case.

Many theories of why the Mercedes S280 had smashed into the pillar have been put forward in many books about Princess Diana’s death.

The latest theory is in a book by Frenchman Jean-Michel Caradec’h, journalist and writer.

Author of around 15 books one of them the excellent Diana, l’enquête criminelle published by Éditions Michel Lafon in 2006, Caradec’h in his latest book, Qui a tLady Di, published by Éditions Grasset this month of June (2017), does not beat about the bush in naming the culprit, the one responsible for her death.

And the culprit is the Mercedes S280 manufactured in 1994, and thus three years old at the time of the crash.

The vehicle, as he claims his research had revealed to him, was not roadworthy.

 It was research in which he was assisted by two photographers, Pascal Rostain and Bruno Mouron.

Rostain and Mouron, co-founders of the photographic agency Sphinx based in the French town of Amiens, specialise in snapping the rich and the famous, sometimes with their permission and sometimes without. In other words, they are paparazzi, and so many scoops have they had, that they are known in the media world as the cream of French paparazzi.

 Like during François Mitterrand’s presidency, Mouron had revealed with photographs on the cover of the prestigious weekly magazine Paris Match, that the president, with a wife and two sons, had a mistress and had fathered a love child by her. And, he had also revealed with Paris Match cover photographs that Prince Albert of Monaco, then a bachelor, had fathered a son with an air hostess from the African state of Togo.

Rostain is with Paris Match.

French publishers, drooling over the photographs of Rostain and Mouron, have published several books of their photos.

In Qui a tLady Di the research of Caradec’h, Rostain and Mouron focuses on interviews they had undertaken with people.

To be exact, with three people.

One: Jean-François Musa. In 1997 he was part-proprietor of the vehicle-hire limited company Étoile Limousine, created in 1996. Étoile Limousine was the owner of the S280.  The other proprietors of the company, which had only six vehicles, all Mercedes Benz luxury cars, were chauffeur Philippe Siegel and the Ritz Hotel’s president (executive manager) Frank Klein.  The Étoile Limousine’s office being on Place Vendôme and thus facing the Ritz Hotel, the six Mercedes Benz cars were parked in the hotel’s car-park in the hotel’s basement:  the hotel was the company’s only client. Étoile Limousine still exists today and Musa is still its proprietor, but it has moved from the Place Vendôme premises. And, he no longer parks his vehicles in the Ritz Hotel’s car-park.

Two: Karim Kazi. For four years Kazi was one of Étoile Limousine’s chauffeurs. He mainly drove the Mercedes S280, but on the night of the crash, he was no longer with the company. He had resigned in June, in other words two months previously, to open a small filling station in central Paris.  In 2004 the French publisher Michel Lafon published his book Limousine – Souvenirs d’un chauffeur de stars of reminisces of his career as a chauffeur for the rich, the famous and the beautiful.

Three:  Éric Bousquet. An entrepreneur and proprietor of the already then successful publicity agency Agence Business founded in 1978, he was the first owner of the Mercedes S280 having bought it in September 1994. Agence Business is still in existence, and what is more, it is a multi-million-euro company today, creator of France’s most famous advertisements for television.

From conducting interviews with these three men, Caradec’h and his two co-researchers exposed the Mercedes S280 as a vehicle which was not roadworthy. It was not roadworthy because it had suffered damage in two thefts, damage which had caused the vehicle to crash in the Pont Alma underpass in the last minutes of Saturday, August 30, 1997.

Étoile Limousine’s S280 did have a history.

Its history goes back to December 1994. The vehicle then the property of Éric Bousquet and Agence Business, the company’s chauffeur, identified in Caradec’h’s book only as Umberto, telephoned Bousquet, his boss, to report that the Mercedes has been stolen. The thief had used an old trick by driving into the back of the vehicle and when the chauffeur descended to view the damage, the thief jumped into the car and drove off.

Several weeks later the police found the car in a field close to Charles de Gaulle airport north of Paris. It was in a bad state, having rolled several times.

Agence Business’s insurer offered to have the car repaired, but Bousquet opted for a pay-out.

So, what did the insurer do with the S280?

The insurer repaired it and in 1996 it stood in the window of a Mercedes dealer, Mercedes Austerlitz, in Boulevard Saint-Marcel in Paris’s 5th Arrondissement (district). Caradec’h did not interview the car dealer: the car dealer had closed down.

In August that year of 1996 Musa bought the Mercedes S280 with 11,000 km on the odometer from Mercedes Austerlitz. The car dealer had provided him with the usual guarantee given when a second-hand car was bought.

Musa, was told, according to what he told the three interviewers, that the car, as he had been told by Mercedes Austerlitz, which had been used by the head of Mercedes-France, was in excellent condition.

 On Monday, April 1997, Philippe Siegel, Musa’s partner reported to the police that the night before, after having dropped off his passengers, Étoile Limousine’s clients at a Paris restaurant, he had been held up at gunpoint by three men who had raced off with the vehicle. The vehicle he was using that night was the Mercedes S280.

A fortnight later police found the vehicle. Several of its mechanical and body parts had been removed and so too its electronic circuits. Musa took the vehicle to the Mercedes dealer Bosquet-Bauer in the Paris suburb of Saint-Ouen which repaired it and replaced all the stolen parts.

The Mercedes S280 was yet again as good as new and back in business, Étoile Limousine’s chauffeurs, especially Karim Kazi, driving the rich, beautiful and famous around the French capital.

But as Caradec’h and his two co-researchers discovered twice before that April 1997, Musa had taken the vehicle to Bosquet-Bauer for a control. The first was in October 1996, two months after he had bought the vehicle from Mercedes Austerlitz and the second was in May 1997, three months before the Pont Alma underpass crash. The first time was because the chauffeurs had complained that when they stepped on the accelerator there was a problem keeping the car on the road, and the second time was to verify the steering and shock absorber system. 

One of the chauffeurs who had complained was Karim Kazi.

Yet, despite the complaints about the vehicle, it was not involved in any accidents. Not until the night of August 30/31, 1997.

(Daimler-Benz’s Mercedes S280 saloon (called ‘sedan’ in the USA and ‘berline’ in France) was first manufactured in 1993 in Stuttgart, Germany. Production of the S280 line was ended in 1998. At 5113 mm in length the 4-door 5-seat vehicle had a weight of 1960 kg. when without passengers. It was air-conditioned, its windows operated electronically, it was equipped with air bags and had a maximum speed of 215 kmh. It was also equipped with an ABS braking system.)

Why 20 years after that August 1997 night do we only now in Caradech’s Qui a tLady Di learn about the history of Étoile Limousine’s Mercedes S280? How come neither the French nor the British investigators had found out about it? That it had been stolen in April 1997 we did know about, but only that.

Musa, Kazi and Bousquet explained to the three researchers why they had not at the time of the crash, or in the years since, spoken to the police or to the media about the fact that the vehicle went off the road when going at a high speed. In other words that it was not roadworthy.

Musa:

At 2.30 of the morning of Sunday, August 31, 1997, Musa had gone to police headquarters at No. 36 Quai des Orfévres bordering the Seine in central Paris.

 The police found his story about the night’s Alma Underpass crash rather confusing. That it was, they thought, was because Musa found what had happened to the Princess and the son of the Ritz’s owner, distressing. 

What the police learned from him was that he, already having supplied the hotel with a vehicle – a Mercedes 600 – and a chauffeur for Dodi and Diana to use on the previous day, Saturday August 30, had been asked at 1.50 p.m. whether he had a second vehicle the couple could use.  Could use immediately.

In Qui a tLady Di Caradec’h does not say who had asked Musa for another vehicle, only that he had been standing outside the hotel on Place Vendôme in case he should be needed because the Princess and/or Dodi would still need to be chauffeured that night, when he was called into the hotel and was asked for a second vehicle.

He had told whoever it was who had asked him that he had a Mercedes S280 available, and as it was parked in the hotel’s basement car-park he had sent the hotel’s car-jockey to drive to the hotel’s service entrance on Rue Cambon, the street behind the hotel. There, at the service entrance, the car-jockey was to hand the key over to the man who would be driving the couple to Mohammed Al-Fayed’s apartment on the corner of Avenue des Champs-Élysées and Rue Arsène Houssaye: they wanted to spend the night in the apartment. He was told that Henri Paul, the hotel’s head of security, would be driving the couple to the apartment. Knowing that Henri Paul was not a chauffeur and did not possess the required special license – Grande Remise – to drive such a luxury car, he had offered to drive the S280 himself. He was, though, told that, no, when the Princess and Dodi set off from Rue Cambon in the Mercedes S280, he, behind the wheel of the Mercedes 600, the car they had used all that day, was to set off from Place Vendôme to the apartment to fool the paparazzi and reporters waiting on the square for pictures and a story.

He would undergo a second interrogation later that day and he repeated to the police what he had already told them.

As he would tell the three researchers, he had not mentioned to the police that the car was not roadworthy because it went off the road when going at a high speed, because, at that time, he was under contract with the Ritz Hotel, and it was an exclusive contract which meant that only he supplied vehicles and chauffeurs to the hotel, and he feared that the hotel would end his contract, should he reveal that the Mercedes S280 was not roadworthy. He could therefore not say anything. 

Also, he feared that, as he was the owner of the Mercedes S280, he would be blamed for the accident.

But why was he speaking to the three researchers about the vehicle’s problem of going off the road when driven at a high speed, 20 years later?

As he told the three, in 2012 Mohammed Al-Fayed had closed the Ritz Hotel for a renovation and when he reopened the hotel in 2016, some four years later, he had not offered his Étoile Limousine’s a new contract. “Maybe through resentment,” he told the three researchers. Therefore, no longer under contract with the hotel, he was not bound by a confidentiality clause, or loyalty. “I do not owe him anything anymore,” he said about Mr. Al-Fayed.

Something else which Musa had not told the police, but did tell the three researchers, was of having bawled out, by telephone, Bosquet-Bauer about the problems with the Mercedes S280, but that this Mercedes dealer had told him that there was nothing wrong with the vehicle.  He had also, he said, sent Bosquet-Bauer a registered letter to which he had not received a reply.

Karim Kazi:

Karim Kazi, as he told the three researches, had not considered the accident as something which concerned him as he was no longer with Étoile Limousine’s on that night of August 30/31, 1997. He had therefore not gone to the police to tell them that the Mercedes S280 was not roadworthy.

A few weeks, though, after the Pont Alma underpass crash the police had summoned him for interrogation.

His name had propped up when a French anaesthetist, Dr Alain Thomas, in London for a conference soon after the Pont Alma underpass crash had popped into the offices of New Scotland Yard with a story he thought the investigators should know. He told the British officers that his information was of great importance. The doctor’s information was that a friend of his, a certain Karim Kazi, chauffeur at the Ritz, had told him that on the evening of Saturday, August 30, 1997, he had been given the very ‘formal order’ to get the Mercedes S280 to the Ritz before 8 p.m.  It was an order, he told the police, which was highly suspicious.

The British police, having told their French counterparts what they had learned from the doctor, had then summoned Karim Kazi for interrogation.

Karim Kazi had, though, denied to the French police that he had ever told the doctor any such story, and that, indeed, he had left Étoile Limousine two months before the Pont Alma underpass crash. That, in fact, on the night of the crash he had been a guest at a birthday party.

(The following is not in Qui a tLady Di, but it was mentioned in a tv documentary on the private French network M6. In that documentary, one of the researchers quoted Karim Kazi of having told him when he interviewed him for the book, that, when he left Étoile Limousine two months before the Alma Underpass crash, he had told Franz Klein, the Ritz’s President: “This old jalopy must be scrapped. Above 60 kmh one cannot keep it on the road. »  That, he had told the researcher, was all he had said to Mr Klein on leaving, implying that he had not left the Ritz in a friendly way.)

 He did however on Pg 85 of his 210-page book book Limousine – Souvenirs d’un chauffeur de stars, write about a stain on the Mercedes S280’s left rear side which no matter how he had tried to remove the stain he could not. That, he writes in his book really made him hopping mad because he wanted to be looked on as the Ritz chauffeur whose car was always clean.

As for Dr Alain Thomas, also summoned by the police for interrogation, had, at first not turned up, and when he did finally do so, he was only to sum up all the theories circulating in the French media of why the car had smashed into the 13th pillar of the underpass.

Éric Bousquet:

 Éric Bousquet, first owner of the Mercedes S280, had, like Karim Kazi, decided that the crash did not concern him.

As he had told the three researchers, he was aware that the Mercedes which had crashed in the Pont Alma underpass that August night was the same model as the one he had had, but how could he possibly have known that it was the Mercedes of which he had been the owner once.  Therefore, the crash not having anything to do with him, he had not gone to the police. Neither had they summoned him for interrogation.

The Mercedes S280:

On Wednesday, September 10, France’s IRCGN (Institut de recherche criminelle de la gendarmerie nationale) – the forensic department of the French national Gendarmerie – began to study the smashed vehicle which had been taken to the police’s garage at No. 110 Boulevard MacDonald in Paris’s 19th arrondissement (district).  (France’s ‘gendarmerie’ falls under the Ministry of Defence, whereas the police fall under the Ministry of Interior.)

What the French investigators wanted the IRCGN’s forensic experts to establish was why the Mercedes S280 with Henri Paul at the wheel had smashed into the 13th pillar of the Pont Alma underpass. Had the vehicle smashed into the pillar because something had caused Henri Paul to lose control of the car? If so, was this ‘something’ a human being or human beings, in other words the crash was an assassination? Or had the car, smashing into the pillar, been nothing but a traffic accident?

The forensic experts established that entering the underpass the Mercedes had had a scrape with a white Fiat Uno. The Fiat had continued on its way through the underpass to disappear. As Caradec’h points out in Qui a tLady Di the French police still had not, 20 years later, identified the driver of the Fiat and this after having verified about 3,000 Fiat Uno cars.  This is true. There are two possibles: Le Van Thanh and James Andanson. Le Van Thanh is still about: James Andanson, who was a top paparazzo, is not: soon after the Mercedes crash, he committed suicide by burning himself to death in his car …

Furthermore, both the French and British investigators had, through the evidence they had gathered from interrogations, and indeed the IRCGN’s examination of the Mercedes S280, concluded that there had been no mechanical reason for the car having smashed into that pillar.

Yet, despite such a conclusion by both the French and British investigators, Caradec’h and his two co-researchers have no doubt that the Mercedes S280 was the cause of Princess Diana’s death. Caradec’h even quotes in Qui a tLady Di from Chapter 6 of the British report of its investigation – the Paget Report. “Both the French and the British examinations of the Mercedes have shown that there were no mechanical issues with the car that could have in any way caused or contributed to the crash.”

So, are not Caradec’h and his three co-researches taking a chance stating that the vehicle had not been roadworthy and had, thus, smashed into the pillar because Henri Paul was speeding.

I have spoken to a researcher of a technical mindset, and this is what he had emailed me:

“I have given some thought as to why a Mercedes might become unstable at speed. The only explanation that I can think of is a bent chassis, meaning that all four wheels are parallel (after their angles have been adjusted), but the front and rear wheels are no longer in line with one another. That would completely mess up the on-board electronics (the ABS braking system, the traction control etc.), which assume that front and rear wheels are in line. The very systems meant to keep the car stable at all times would render it unstable at speed. However, there are two reasons why I still consider the story as not correct. First, straightening a bent chassis is not rocket science. Even backyard workshops can do that, using chalk lines drawn on the floor. Secondly, the car’s on-board computer would have logged incessant interventions by the electronic stability systems, which would have assumed that something was amiss even while the car was travelling in a straight line. Thirdly, the car would have been constantly in and out of the garage, with alarms going off all the time, but nobody being able to figure out why.

“As an afterthought, the chassis will definitely have been bent after the crash that killed Diana, hence it would have been almost impossible for the IRCGN to establish whether it had already been (slightly) bent beforehand. Only advanced metallurgical tests could have established whether the relevant chassis sections had been bent once (in the Pont d’Alma crash), twice (in that crash as well as a previous one), or thrice (bent in a previous crash, subsequently straightened, then bent again in the Pont d’Alma crash”.

The Mercedes S280 had gone in for checking just twice, and none of Étoile Limousine’s clients had ever mentioned to anyone at the Ritz Hotel or to any of the car-hire’s directors about an alarm which had gone off when they were in the car. It certainly would have been a most frightening experience which they would not have failed to speak about, even complain about.

And now 20 years later?:

Many people today believe that the man behind the Mercedes’s wheel – Henri Paul – was drunk and drugged that night. Drunk as a pig had headlined one London national.

This so-called drunkard and drug-addict was however only to be blamed for the crash after the French police had let the arrested paparazzi, first to be blamed for the crash, go.

If Musa and Karim Kazi had been straightforward and even honest with the French police during interrogation, the humiliation the aged parents of Henri Paul had suffered having been told that their son had killed Princess Diana, would never have occurred. Not to mention the persistent blame for the crash blackening Henri Paul’s memory.

Also, the IRCGN would have looked at the chassis,  to verify Musa’s and Karim Kazi’s story that the vehicle went off the road when going at a high speed, and there would have been no mystery about why the car had smashed into the 13th pillar in the Pont Alma underpass.

And no mystery as why Princess Diana had died that night. 

But, Musa and Karim Kazi had said nothing.

end

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

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