Au­thor un­cov­ers fa­ther’s shady past as arms dealer

Sunday News - - WORLD -

LON­DON John Le Carre, the nov­el­ist and for­mer spy, has re­vealed that his fa­ther was an arms dealer who worked with East Ger­many’s se­cret po­lice.

Le Carre, 85, said he had re­cently been given ex­tracts of his own file from the Stasi ar­chives, as well as the dossier the se­cu­rity or­gan­i­sa­tion held on his fa­ther, Ron­nie Corn­well.

The au­thor said it ap­peared that Corn­well had be­gun li­ais­ing with the Stasi while Le Carre was work­ing as a spy at the Bri­tish Em­bassy in Bonn, West Ger­many.

He said the Stasi de­scribed his fa­ther as an arms dealer, and may have been us­ing him as an in­ter­me­di­ary to place arms in coun­tries in which the agency had in­ter­ests.

Le Carre also sug­gested that his fa­ther may have told the East Ger­mans that he could ‘‘de­liver’’ his son, the spy, to them

In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, The Pi­geon Tun­nel, Le Carre writes of the shadow his fa­ther cast over his life, partly be­cause of his numer­ous crim­i­nal en­ter­prises, some of which he en­listed his son in.

The au­thor ef­fec­tively ran away from his fa­ther and started work with Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence agen­cies in the years be­fore he be­gan his lit­er­ary ca­reer.

Corn­well, who died in 1975, mixed with 1960s Lon­don gang­sters Ron­nie and Reg­gie Kray and lead­ing sports­peo­ple. In Le Carre’s words, he ‘‘saw no para­dox be­tween be­ing on the wanted list for fraud and sport­ing a grey top­per in the own­ers’ en­clo­sure at As­cot’’.

He also stood as a Lib­eral par­lia­men­tary can­di­date de­spite his Con­ser­va­tive op­po­nents re­veal­ing el­e­ments of his crim­i­nal past to the elec­torate.

Le Carre said he had ‘‘got [his fa­ther] out of jail in sev­eral places’’, adding that it had grad­u­ally dawned on him over the years that Corn­well was a ‘‘se­ri­ous’’ crim­i­nal.

‘‘As we now know, he was an il­le­gal arms dealer,’’ he said.

‘‘What seems to have hap­pened is that while I was serv­ing at the Bri­tish Em­bassy in Bonn [for MI6], he got him­self a visa to go to East Ger­many, got for­mal per­mis­sion to use East Ger­man cur­rency and opened ne­go­ti­a­tions to trade with them. My guess is that they tar­geted him as some­one they could use to place arms in var­i­ous places where the Stasi was much in­volved, like the Congo.’’

He said the Stasi sent one of its agents who was in his fa­ther’s cir­cle from Vi­enna to com­pile a ‘‘pre-covert op­er­a­tion in­spec­tion re­port’’ on Corn­well’s of­fices in Jermyn St, cen­tral Lon­don. This had shown the lay­out of the build­ing and the lo­ca­tion of the of­fice safe, although Le Carre said it was ‘‘hi­lar­i­ous’’ that the Stasi de­scribed his fa­ther as ‘‘ex­tremely rich’’, be­cause he was al­ways deeply in debt.

The au­thor said the Stasi may have seen his fa­ther as a ‘‘use­ful fig­ure float­ing through the Iron Cur­tain pre­tend­ing to have con­tacts he prob­a­bly never had’’. The Times

John Le Carre

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