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Businessman Faces Trial in Alleged Plot

Conspiracy: Hans Frederick Johnston is accused of planning murder of five people. Prosecutors believe they have written confession.

October 13, 1998|P.J. HUFFSTUTTER and JANET STOBART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After prosecutors discovered what they believe is a written confession, a British magistrate ordered an Orange County businessman accused of plotting to kill five people to stand trial in London later this year.

Hans Frederick Johnston, who once controlled electronics manufacturer Statek Corp. in Orange, was arrested in April by London police, who charged the 71-year-old with conspiring to kill three American attorneys and two Swiss citizens, including his former partner at Statek. Johnston also was charged with possessing several fake identification cards.

Officials at Scotland Yard and the FBI, which assisted British police in the case, declined to say how they obtained Johnston's letter. Johnston's criminal attorneys in England also declined to comment.

Sources familiar with the case say the document represents a key piece of evidence in the British prosecution.

The case is rooted in a convoluted, decade-long dispute between Johnston and Swiss engineer Miklos Vendel, 57, over control of Statek, which makes electronic timing devices. After losing control of Statek to Vendel in 1996, Johnston allegedly went to London seeking an assassin to kill his former business partner.

But Johnston feared that the would-be killers, who still are at large, eventually would harm him, according to prosecutors. So he wrote out his plan to kill Vendel and gave the letter to an acquaintance, with instructions to hand it over to authorities if something happened to him.

The letter, dated April 17 of this year, allegedly was written by Johnston.

In it, he accuses Vendel of causing him enormous financial damage. "These matters are not reversible. Lives can't be changed back," Johnston wrote. "I therefore decided some time ago . . . to eliminate" Vendel and his Delaware-based attorneys Thomas J. Allingham II, Cathy L. Reese and Robert J. Reese Jr.

Johnston allegedly went to England in search of someone to carry out the killing, according to the letter. Through a London contact, Johnston met with a team of "people in Dublin who specialize in such activities," according to the letter.

Neither Vendel nor his three Delaware lawyers could be reached for comment.

Over the course of several weeks, Johnston apparently flew to Dublin, Ireland, several times to meet with the group to discuss the hit. Johnston allegedly paid this group 65,000 British pounds--or about $111,000--and promised another $60,000 once Vendel was dead, according to the letter.

In addition, Johnston would hand over a minority interest in privately held Statek to the assassins once he had regained control of the firm, the letter said.

Johnston apparently planned to go into hiding to avoid being investigated by law enforcement, according to the document. Using a forged birth certificate, Johnston obtained a British driver's license and passport under the name William Reilly. Johnson also had a Belgian passport and an Irish driver's license in the name of Joseph Moore, according to British police.

British authorities have found the real Reilly, whom officials say is living in a nursing home in Scotland and has never had a driver's license.

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