David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Too Much of a Gamble


Aspinalls is a well-known gambling club in London’s Mayfair, and it specializes in separating foolish English upper-class chaps from the fortunes, the castles and the Old Masters their fond but equally foolish parents bequeathed them. A Syrian by the name of Fouad al-Zayat is perhaps an unusual punter at such a club, but he can hold his own with the native English when it comes to chucking money away. In March 2000 he lost at roulette and wrote bad checks. Nevertheless the club allowed him to play more, whereupon he lost heavily again and still failed to pay. To obtain their winnings, the club took Fouad al-Zayat to court.

According to court reports, he seems rather larger than life, even genial. His nickname is “the Fat Man,” he lives in Cyprus where he operates a company, and has a private Boeing 747 and of course a Rolls-Royce as well. Apparently it is not unusual for him to tip a waitress $10,000 for bringing him a cup of tea. It came out in court that in the course of some 600 visits to the club over the last twelve years he had bet there about $200 million, losing about a quarter of that sum.

In more than one occasion in the recent past, Zayat escorted Republican Congressman Bob Ney from Ohio to exclusive gambling clubs in London, and gave him chips with which Ney won almost $100,000. Documents from the U.S Justice Department say that Zayat’s company paid for Ney’s “round-trip airfare, luxury accommodation, meal and entertainment.” Why so ? Because, The Observer newspaper reports, “Zayat wanted Ney’s help in getting his company an exemption that would secure a multi-million-dollar deal with the Iranians.”  The source of Zayat’s wealth, that report continues, is “something of a mystery” but he has been “an intermediary in a number of lucrative defence-related deals.” Say no more.

Syria today is a Sovietised slum in which the ruling Assad dynasty and their Baathist hangers-on monopolise such wealth as there is, and everybody else can do nothing to relieve their poverty. Those who know how to skim money off defence-related contracts and multi-million-dollar Iranian deals are helping to perpetuate the misery of these millions of helpless people, as well as making the world yet more unsafe.  The eagerness of clubs like Aspinalls for money from any source, no matter how suspect, to finish in their hands proves that corruption crosses cultures and frontiers with the ease and speed of an infectious disease.


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