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  • The man behind Jeffrey Archer’s downfall and the memories I have of him

    Posted On November 29, 1999

    By Karan Thapar

    We used to call him kurta-pyjama when I knew him. Partly because of his name but largely because of the resemblance he bore to the big, floppy, creased and usually soiled garment so typical of eastern UP. Despite his name and his flashy style – and even his taste for Hussain paintings – he was a little smooth if not creepy. In fact, he was oleaginous; oily would be far too pedestrian a word to describe him.

    Last week, as Jeffrey Archer fell from grace for the third time, long forgotten memories of kurta-pyjama came rushing back.  He had no role to play in Archer’s first fall but perhaps that was because he did not know him at the time.  That was due to a self-inflicted bankruptcy.  But the second and now the third can be traced to him.

    His name is Aziz Kurta.  He used to be (who knows, he may still be) a lawyer in Dubai.  He was rich, his face handsome, his nose large and his hair receding.  The ladies – particularly the elderly ones – liked him.  Youngsters, of either sex, never did.  He was the presenter of a programme I once produced.  It’s name was Eastern Eye.

    In 1987, in London’s Shepherd Market, Aziz believed he saw Jeffrey Archer walk out of (or was it walk into?) the parlour of a prostitute he personally knew.  When Archer was done Aziz traipsed in to enlighten Monica – for such was her name – of his identity.  As Archer was vice-chairman of the Tories, and as they were in power, this was hot stuff.

    Under Aziz’s influence and may be his guidance – or so the papers at the time suggested – Monica attempted to blackmail Archer and when he paid up – and was witnessed, perhaps even photographed, doing so – it was taken as evidence of his guilt.  The Daily Star published the story.  Archer’s career collapsed.

    Yet what saved Archer was the fact he also sued.  His libel case succeeded because, if my understanding is correct, the paper could not prove that he had paid to hide his guilt.  Archer claimed the money was to silence Monica’s babbling which, though false, was damaging.  The court believed him.

    Now it seems that Archer had got a friend to lie.  The lie established an innocent alibi for a dinner with a lady friend he wished to conceal.  The dinner happened on the night Aziz claimed he had seen Archer walk out of the prostitute’s parlour.  No one knows who the lady was or whether there was more to the dinner.  May be we never will.  But the fact that the court case turned on a lie led to Archer’s most recent fall from grace.

    But as Archer tumbled for the third time the picture that formed in my mind was not of the unfortunate novelist but the smooth South Asian lawyer.  If you know My Fair Lady the image of Zoltan Kaparthy is horrifyingly similar : “Oozing charm from every pore, he oiled his way across the floor”.  That could be our Aziz.

    With his silver tongued manner and his gentle – although half-witted – conversation he must have convinced Monica that there was money to be made by picking on Archer.  In much the same style he once tried to convince me that I should introduce him to Benazir Bhutto.  At the time she was unmarried, in self-imposed exile in London and Aziz was on the look out for a fast ride to fame.

    “She must be terribly lonely” he began.  “Imagine all those empty evenings on one’s own.  May be I could take her out to dinner and try and fill a gap in her life.”

    “You!” I said.  It made no sense to me.  “How?”

    “Well” he blathered on.  “She must want company.  I can be discreet, I have money and I know how to give her a good time.”

    The penny only dropped when I repeated the story to my wife.  I was barely 28 and innocent.  Nisha insisted I never tell Benazir.  I think she was right.

    On another occasion Aziz offered me a lift home.  It was a balmy sunday evening and we had been working.  The fact that London tubes only function erratically on holidays made the offer of a lift in his Mercedes all the more enticing.

    When we got home I offered him a drink and he accepted.  On the drawing room table was lying the programme of a Sheridan play we had seen the night before.  It was The Rivals.

    “Ah” Aziz crowed when he spotted the programme.  “The Riyals.”

    -:  3  :-

    Well, I suppose ‘v’s could look like ‘y’s, but why would a play in London be named after the Saudi Arabian currency?  I corrected him gently and was prepared to let it pass.

    “Sheridan” he unabashedly continued.  “That must be Robert Morley’s son who writes for The International Herald Tribune.”

    “Not quite” I replied.  This time I was determined to put him down.  “Sheridan was an eighteenth century playwrite.  At best Morley’s son is named after him.”

    “Oh, you’re so knowledgeable” Aziz continued.  I thought he was teasing but soon realised he was not.  “I’m amazed at all the clever details your head is filled with.  Tell me, is this the sort of play I could take a quiet and serious young woman to see?  I’m looking for an evening with an unconventional lady and perhaps this is the answer.”

    Fortunately fate did not bring Aziz and me together on many other occasions.  The programme, Eastern Eye, ended and we drifted apart.  As a result I did not suffer for knowing him.  In fact, I can even joke about him.  But Jeffrey Archer was not so lucky – and he hardly knew him.  They only bumped into each other one night. Luckily my relationship with Mr. Kurta was always a daytime affair.

    An acceptance of principle or a feeling of guilt?

    Democracies must always stand up for each other.  Of that I have no doubt.  It is not just a matter of sympathy and respect but self-interest.  For whenever a popularly elected government is overthrown, no matter where and no matter why, a little of the spirit of democracy is diminished everywhere.

    So, unquestionably, Prime Minister Vajpayee’s concern for the safety of Nawaz Sharif – and his explicit desire not to say or do anything that might endanger it – is laudable.  But it’s also ironic.  His statements might have brought a small smile of relief to the Sharif family but the Bhuttos will have heard his sentiments with, at best, a wry smile.

    In 1979, when an earlier Pakistani military dictator had to decide about the hanging of one of its many deposed prime ministers, world governments with few exceptions publicly pleaded for clemency.  Two countries that did not were the Kingdom of Jordan and the Republic of India.  At the time our Prime Minister was Morarji Desai.  Do you remember who his Foreign Minister was?

    No doubt this time round Mr. Vajpayee’s behaviour is far more defensible, but I wonder if it’s motivated by just a teensy-weansy feeling of guilt?

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