Author uncovers father’s shady past as arms dealer
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