London mayor fumes over Tarik Aziz s cigar case
Boris Johnson, a former journalist, gives police the item, which had belonged to Iraqi official Tarik Aziz. Johnson blames political opponents for launching an "idiotic" probe.
LONDON -- In the smoke-filled rooms of backroom politics here, it was only natural that a cigar case with a storied past would become convenient fodder for scandal.
After months of smoldering controversy, London Mayor Boris Johnson appeared to put the matter to rest this week by handing over to Scotland Yard the item in question: a leather cigar case belonging to Iraq's former deputy prime minister, Tarik Aziz, scavenged by the mayor himself from the rubble-strewn floor of a Baghdad villa shortly after the debut of the war in Iraq.
Johnson was defiant Tuesday, accusing his political opponents of launching a "time-wastingly idiotic" criminal investigation of his possession of the case, considered an Iraqi cultural treasure. He also insisted that Aziz's lawyers had informed him that the former Iraqi official "wishes me to regard the cigar case as a gift."
Too late. By Tuesday morning, it had been booked into evidence.
"We can confirm that the item in question was taken into police custody . . . and it will remain with the police until further inquiries are carried out," said a Metropolitan Police spokesman, speaking on standard conditions of anonymity.
He said an unnamed person handed over the cigar case because it was believed to be "an item of Iraqi cultural property," which under United Nations regulations must be transferred to the police. Failure to do so constitutes a criminal offense, the spokesman said, "unless the person can prove that they were unaware it was an item of cultural significance."
Johnson, a former journalist who took office last month after defeating former Mayor Ken Livingstone in a bruising election battle, never made a secret of his possession of the cigar case -- he wrote a newspaper column in 2003 after deciding to "trouser" the item at the ravaged villa.
"You never saw such a mess. Naked wires sprouted from every wall where the light fittings had been ripped out. The very bidets had been smashed by the mob, in search of heaven knows what. . . . Everything of value or interest had been looted, or almost everything," wrote Johnson, who then spotted the leather cigar case, "capable of holding three Winston Churchills," in the front hall.
"Some journalists had rooted around in Baghdad and found sensational documents, appearing to incriminate Western politicians. It fell to your columnist to find a vital relic of our times, the object that nestled in the Iraqi foreign minister's breast pocket, and which was in some sense even closer to his heart than Saddam Hussein himself," he wrote.
Johnson envisioned that the cigar case, tucked into Aziz's pocket, had "silently attended the innermost meetings of the Baath Revolutionary Council," was perhaps even in the room when Hussein had "given away the secret location of his weapons of mass destruction."
The future mayor then mused on Aziz himself, whose villa also gave up the shredded works of Dostoyevsky and Flaubert, pages of Russian sheet music, a video of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in "The Sandpiper."
Aziz's function, he concluded, "was to provide a veneer of international sophistication to a disgusting regime."
"He was a vain and conniving adjutant to terror, and I have temporarily taken his cigar case for safekeeping," Johnson wrote. "Had I left it, the thing would of course have fallen into the hands of someone even more hostile to Tarik Aziz than me."
Thus the case rested until early this year, when the police inquiry began. Livingstone's campaign aides have denied reporting the issue to authorities, though Johnson insists that it was "Labor [party] stooges" combing for dirt who "went to the Metropolitan Police and demanded that I be prosecuted."
With the item now in police custody, no prosecution appears to be in the works. Johnson, in a column in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph, muses that the Iraq war must have produced likelier war criminals.
"We sparked a murderous civil war in which hundreds of thousands have died -- and all for the sake of a lie, or a series of lies. . . ." the mayor wrote.
"Despite all the manifold acts of deception and incompetence, there is not a single politician, on either side of the Atlantic, who has been put on trial, or even had his collar felt," he said.
Source: Los Angeles Times