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I'LL INFECT YOUR SOCCER STARS WITH HIV VIRUS; pounds 7m blackmail against Fulham.

Byline: ANDY GARDNER, Crime Reporter

A BLACKMAILER is threatening to infect Fulham's Premiership football stars with the HIV virus unless he is paid pounds 7million.

The extortionist has written two sinister letters to the club - owned by Harrods boss Mohamed Al Fayed - claiming two players have already been infected.

Scotland Yard has spent two months trying to track the extortionist.

Officers have also been in touch with police in the North of England which investigated a similar blackmail bid against another Premiership club in November 1999.

A source said: "This is being taken seriously because the threat was very specific. Fulham have kept things quiet because they don't want to alarm their players.

"The two letters are quite sinister. It would be easy to dismiss them as the work of a crackpot, but you can't take chances."

The first letter was sent to the club's French manager Jean Tigana at Craven Cottage in November last year. The extortionist claimed to be able to infect the team's highly-paid stars with the virus which leads to Aids.

These include pounds 11million French star Steve Marlet, Luis Boa Morte, Louis Saha and Barry Hayles.

The note did not say how the virus would be passed on.

Fulham was told to deposit $10million - about pounds 7million - in a Chicago bank account and place an advert in the Chicago Herald newspaper to confirm payment. It was told to use specific words to show it would comply with the demands.

Fulham's security staff believed it was a hoax, but two months later a second letter was sent to the West London club addressed to Tigana and owner Al Fayed. The extortionist attacked Fulham for ignoring the first letter - and gave a chilling warning.

A source said: "The letter said two of its players had already been infected.

"It did not say which players had been targeted and could quite easily be an empty threat. But this was the second letter from the same source and is very worrying."

This time the club was ordered to place an advert in a British national newspaper with a telephone number.

The blackmailer would contact the number and leave details of how the cash should be paid.

Police placed the ad in the paper and monitored the phone, which rang twice - but both times the caller had dialled the number by mistake.

Writing experts concluded the letters were from the same person, who was either American or educated in the US. The source said: "The letters contained a lot of Americanisms."

Last night neither the club nor police would discuss the matter but a police source said: "The letters were taken seriously. Mr Al Fayed was extremely worried."

CAPTION(S):

FEAR: Tigana and Fayed were sent letters at Craven Cottage
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 10, 2002
Words:460
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