An 89-year-old Frenchman who lives in Madliena has filed what is thought to be the highest ever garnishee order in Malta - against French oil giant Elf Aquitaine.

André Guelfi might be nearly 90, but he looks fitter than most people half his age. He was a Formula 1 driver in the 1950s, has flown planes, run a lucrative fishing business, and was a key figure in a number of scandals involving top French politicians. He is also a millionaire.

Last Thursday, he asked the Maltese court to issue a garnishee order in security of his legal case against the oil company for the sum of €850 million (Lm365 million), representing commissions and contractual sums due in conjunction with the exploitation of various oilfields in Russia. Mr Guelfi is also alleging that Elf Aquitaine forged a number of contracts to deprive him of his dues.

"They thought I'd be dead by now... They ruined 10 years of my life, but I want the truth to come out, I want to clear my name with the world, either through the court or the media. I've got nothing to be ashamed of," he told The Sunday Times.

Sitting by his beautiful wife, several decades his junior, the Morocco-born Frenchman is keen to tell his story, which unravels like a film script.

Aged 16, he became a debt collector for the local bank, before setting up a fishing company, earning the nickname Dede le Sardine in the process.

"When I was18 I went to a fortune teller. She inspected my hand and told me that I'd be successful, but she insisted that whatever I did, I should steer away from any water-related business. So I did just that, I set up a fishing company."

He pioneered a technique of freezing sardines and packed his money into the bank. But his business was destroyed in the deadly Agadir earthquake in 1960.

After marrying the niece of French president Georges Pompidou, Mr Guelfi became the negotiator for Elf.

His business and political connections made him the go-between in deals worth millions of dollars. That's when the suspicions were aroused and when he started making the headlines for the wrong reasons. Some media reports claimed that he had passed more than $40 million to then German chancellor Helmut Kohl's party to help secure a contract for a German-French joint venture - though there was never any formal accusation.

Mr Guelfi was accused of misappropriating some $40 million allegedly belonging to Elf. He ended up being given a three-year suspended jail term and then ordered to pay Elf Aquitaine tens of millions for misappropriation dollars.

In 1999, during 38 days of preventative detention, he started writing his life history in a book which included details of his colourful encounters, unleashing attacks against several individuals. His book contains photos of Mr Guelfi with top leaders, including Russia's Boris Yeltsin.

Nine years later he has decided to take aim at his former employers insisting he's been wrongly accused.

He says that in the late 1980s, Elf decided to expand its petroleum and gas production by entering into exploitation-production contracts in Russia. But its efforts were constantly defeated by Russian Communist Party's resistance to foreign business.

Elf, however, persisted and as soon as the Communist Party abdicated power, the company contracted Mr Guelfi to intervene with Russian stakeholders and ensure it gained access to Russian oilfields.

Mr Guelfi had won the respect of Russian leaders having helped Moscow financially and strategically organise the 1980 Olympic Games. Having strong allies in the Russian Olympic Committee, Mr Guelfi sought their aid in order to make it possible for Elf to penetrate the Russian oil sector, by promising the Russian Olympic Committee part of the commission payments he was due to receive from Elf.

Mr Guelfi, who is claiming sums agreed on his contracts with Elf, is also intent on securing his claims in Malta and has filed a precautionary garnishee order in the Maltese courts to freeze moneys payable to Elf, passing through Malta, pending the outcome of his court case in France. The precautionary garnishee order was signed by lawyers Adrian Delia and John Gauci of Aequitas Legal.

Asked if he has always acted above board, he said: "I don't have anything to hide. I carried out the instructions given to me by Elf. I was merely rendering a service to a French company.

"I've been wrongly accused, wrongly found guilty. They lied. They used all sorts of threats to make the case against me. "I wake up thinking about wanting to clear my name, and it's the last thing I do before I go to sleep."

Away from the courts, Mr Guelfi says he is happy to enjoy his old age on a sunny Mediterranean island.

"My lawyer recommended I move to Malta. I hate the cold and love the sun... and people here are more relaxed," he says.

But he is evasive when asked how much money he has in the bank: "My money has been seized in court. There was a time when I was very rich. Since the trouble started I had to give up certain business deals, the situation isn't what it was before. I never put money before human relations."

Despite the problems, why does he have a positive outlook on life?

"Come on, you have to remain young to have a young wife. I was once interviewed by a Russian journalist for TV and asked how I've managed to remain looking fit and my reply was: 'marry a woman who's 40 years younger than you'. Of course, the old wives of my friends were not amused."

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