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Judge critical of Aga Khan employees in stud farm row - 2000-02-27

Sunday, 2000, February 27

A FORMER secretary for the Aga Khan has won the first round of her employment dispute and the judge involved has heavily...

A FORMER secretary for the Aga Khan has won the first round of her employment dispute and the judge involved has heavily criticised her employers saying they tried to ``hoodwink'' the High Court.

Mr Justice Declan Budd awarded costs totalling over £250,000 against the Aga Khan's bloodstock company, Stud Societe Civile de Paris, in favour of Kildare woman Mary Charlton (54) who had been secretary of the company's four Irish studs for 27 years.

Mrs Charlton went to court claiming she was being ``made a scapegoat'' after allegations that fraud was uncovered at the stud in Gilltown, Co Kildare during June 1998.

Mr Justice Budd said agents of the Aga Khan's bloodstock company, Stud Societe Civile de Paris, had misled the court by releasing only edited extracts of a crucial memo.

And he described the actions of security officer Frank Faughnan as ``arrogant obduracy or reckless insouciance'' which could have earned him a prison sentence.

The High Court had heard how a former manager of the studs, Frenchman Ghislain Drion, had kept about 40 horses on the Kildare farm at the expense of the Aga Khan but without his knowledge. His employment was terminated.

Mrs Charlton, who was his secretary, was then told by head of security, Frank Faughnan, that she would be questioned as part of an inquiry into the incident.

She went to court claiming that she was being prejudged of wrongdoing.

She also said Mr Faughnan was not a proper person to hold an inquiry as he had been head of security at the time and must have known what was going on.

Mr Justice Budd said lawyers for the Stud Societe Civile de Paris had argued strongly against these claims at the original injuncition hearing.

But a memo from financial executive Richard Coulton to the Aga Khan dated June 18, 1998, which later came to light, stated that the company had in fact already decided to get rid of Mrs Charlton and replace her before she had a chance to defend herself at the inquiry.

The memo stated that this course of action had been decided based on investigations carried out by Mr Faughnan.

Mr Justice Budd complained in his judgement, delivered last Tuesday, that the court had originally been sent only three pages of this six-page memo which had given a misleading impression.

It took nearly a year before the Aga Khan's company released the full text of the memo and the judge described their actions as ``deceptive''.

He noted that at the original hearing the High Court had upheld Mrs Charlton's claims, who was off work sick at the time, and ordered Mr Faughnan not to hold an inquiry.

But when Mrs Charlton said she was fit to return to work in June last year Mr Faughnan wrote to her and said she would have to report to him to answer questions about deleted computer files.

Mrs Charlton is now suspended on full pay until the matter is settled by a full High Court hearing which will probably be heard towards the end of the year.

The judge added he was dealing with the case ``in the mildest terms I can muster'' and pointed out that Mrs Charlton's employers had now conceded she was was not actually guilty of any fraud.

He said: ``I am sure that His Highness will be surprised and upset at the manner in which the litigation has been approached and at how the orders of the High Court have been dealt with by his agents.''

His Highness Prince Karim, the Aga Khan, the owner of a vast business empire, is a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and spiritual leader of 12 million Shia Ismaili Muslims.

He lives in France but also has homes in England and Italy.

The stud in Kildare is one of his two main breeding centres.

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