Bolo Pasha

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Bolo Pasha, originally named Paul Bolo, was a Frenchman who was a Levantine financier, a traitor and a German agent.[1][2] He led a life of adventure: "he circumnavigated the globe, engaged in various curious occupations, participated in many shady schemes."[1][3]

The French secret police and Scotland Yard tried and failed to collect enough evidence to convict Bolo Pasha, but eventually he was convicted of treason with the help of evidence collected by the New York Attorney General. He was executed by firing squad on April 17, 1918.[3]

Early life[edit]

Paul Bolo was born in Marseille to highly respected, law-abiding parents.[3] Bolo's older brother was "an eloquent French prelate,".[1] Starting in his youth, Paul was the black sheep of the family. He changed occupations frequently. His first place of employment was a barber's shop, where he worked as an assistant.[3] After a few months, Bolo became the owner of a small soap shop.[3] After his soap business collapsed, Bolo decided to sell lobsters.[3] "For many months all went well. The sales were large, but the expenditures were greater than the receipts, and the venture went 'to the wall.'"[3] After that failure Bolo left Marseille, and it was rumored that he was involved with a silk manufacturing company in Lyon.[3]

Later Bolo ran a photographic shop, taking pictures of customers belonging to various sectors of society, but this business also was short-lived.[3] His next stop was Paris, where he quickly became "a man about town".[3] Easy-going and intelligent, he became a frequent guest "in the convivial circles" of Paris. Soon Bolo married a woman who was both beautiful and charming. She was older and much richer than he was, but apparently the marriage was a love match rather than a confidence trick. When his wife died and left her fortune to him, Bolo was ready for new adventures, this time in Egypt.[3]

Travel to Egypt and beyond[edit]

Bolo was an adventurer, and Egypt was considered to be "the Mecca of adventurers"[3] at that time. A colorful, multicultural country appealed to this inquisitive Frenchman.[3]

Almost as soon as Bolo arrived in Egypt he sought a meeting with the ruler, Abbas Hilmi, the last Khedive of Egypt and Sudan. Hilmi, who spoke fluent French, was as eager to meet with Europeans visiting Cairo as they were eager to meet with him. Bolo and Hilmi liked each other from the first meeting; the Khedive and the lobster-dealer had common ground: their love of adventure.[3] They met frequently, and at one of those meetings, Bolo was presented with the title of Pasha. Paul Bolo thus became Bolo Pasha.[3]

Bolo accompanied Hilmi on various outings: to a petrified forest and on boat trips along the Nile; the boats were decorated as if it was the era of Cleopatra and Antony.[3] Bolo and Hilmi were seen together, visiting the statue of the Sphinx, the pyramids and the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, which is situated in the Citadel of Cairo.[3] Gradually Bolo became an intimate friend of Hilmi, and as such he was present at some unusual court ceremonies, some of which he planned himself. One was a reception for a Consul-General from one of the European countries.[3]

This was a carefree time in Bolo's life, but Hilmi had foreseen a storm on the horizon. Hilmi felt he was about to be deposed, and he knew his country's history: nobody in Egypt was going to admire a deposed Khedive. Hilmi tried to decide how he could save as much as possible of his fortune.[3] He decided to use his faithful friend to assist him in this effort. Newspaper articles of the time preserve this history:

In November, 1914, in an effort to prevent the permanent sequestration of the ex-Khedive's property in Egypt, Bolo sent an Italian friend to Constantinople, where Abbas then was, with two letters. One was to the effect that Abbas owed Bolo $10,000,000, and the other was a promise by Bolo to refund the money. Bolo then arranged a meeting with Sadik Pasha, counselor to Abbas Hilmi, at Rome for February 1, 1915, and he thereupon proposed to Abbas' representative a plan for the establishment of a bank in Switzerland, which was in reality to be used for the dissemination of German propaganda. Bolo and Sadik Pasha went to Vienna to meet Abbas Hilmi, who refused to consider the scheme. Bolo thereupon made an alternative proposal to the effect that he purchase an interest in some of the leading newspapers of France, at the same time guaranteeing the publication of a number of articles favorable to the German cause.

Abbas Hilmi is said to have favored the last proposition, and after a conference with Count Monts, the former German Ambassador to Rome, dispatched Sadik Pasha to Berlin to lay the matter before Foreign Minister von Jagow. Von Jagow is said to have agreed and offered to put up 10,000,000 marks to be paid in ten monthly instalments. A short time after that Abbas Hilmi, accompanied by Chefik Pasha, arrived at the Hotel Savoy, Zurich, where Bolo and Commandatore Cavallini already were installed. It is noteworthy that at the same time Bolo and his party were at the Hotel Savoy, Herr Erzberger, leader of the German party, was at the Hotel du Saint Gothard, and that Bolo introduced him to many of his friends. The next day at a conference at the Savoy, Bolo was said to have accepted Von Jagow's proposal of 10,000,000 marks monthly, to be paid through the ex-Khedive.

The story has it that on March 21, 1915, the former Egyptian ruler received the first instalment through the Dresden Bank and forwarded it to an agent in Italy to be paid over to Bolo. The French spy refused to accept the money in that way and arrangements were thereupon made to have the money deposited in a Geneva bank, where Bolo represented it to be a part of the personal fortune of Abbas Hilmi.[3]

Bolo found himself under suspicion because of his frequent trips between Paris and Geneva.[3] In March 1915, Bolo met with Hilmi in Switzerland. Apparently Bolo was given $2,500,000 to be used to pay the French media in order to influence the public to accept peace with Germany.[1]

Traveling to the United States[edit]

On February 22, 1916, Bolo arrived in New York. He spent almost a month there, leaving on March 17, 1916. During the time he spent in New York, Bolo tried to avoid being seen in the company of German agents, but he traveled to Washington, D.C. for a secret meeting with Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff, a German ambassador to the United States.[1]

When the French government appealed to the governor of New York asking for help in collecting evidence against Bolo, Merton E. Lewis, the Attorney General of New York State, was assigned to the case.[1] He was able to collect some "sensational" evidence:

The evidence, which included photographic reproductions of many telltale checks, letters, and telegrams, revealed the fact that Count Bernstorff, then German Ambassador at Washington, had eagerly fallen in with Bolo's proposition to betray France by corrupting the press in favor of a premature peace and had advanced him the enormous sum of $1,683,500 to finance the plot The State Department and Ambassador Jusserand examined the evidence and attested its genuineness.[1]

One of the most important pieces of evidence was the letter Bolo wrote to the New York City branch of the Royal Bank of Canada on March 14, 1916:

Gentlemen: You will receive from Messrs. &. Amsinck & Co. deposits for the credit of my account with you, which deposits will reach the aggregate amount of about $1,700,000, which I wish you to utilize in the following manner:

First—Immediately on receipt of the first amount on account of this sum pay to Messrs. J. P. Morgan & Co., New York City, the sum of $170,068.03, to be placed to the credit of the account with them of Senator Charles Humbert, Paris.

Second—Establish on your books a credit of $5,000, good until the 31st of May, In favor of Jules Bois, Biltmore Hotel, this amount to be utilized by him at the debit of my account according to his needs, and the unused balance to be returned to me.

Third—Transfer to the credit of my wife, Mme. Bolo, with agency T of Comptoir National d'Escompte de Paris a sum of about $524,000, to be debited to my account as such transfers are made by you at best rate and by small amounts.

Fourth—You will hold, subject to my instructions, when all payments are complete, a balance of not less than $1,000,000.

Yours truly, BOLO PASHA [1]

Arrest and trial[edit]

Senator Charles Humbert (right) and his lawyer Me Moro-Giafferi during the trial

Bolo was arrested in Paris on 29 September 1917.[1] He was tried at court-martial and was charged with treason.[3] Visibly shaken by the charge of treason, Bolo exclaimed:

I am no traitor. I have asked to be judged, and I am willing to die, but not as a traitor![3]

When asked why he never kept records of his money transfers, Bolo responded: "I am the master of money, not its slave!" [3]

Abbas Hilmi was called as a witness, but he failed to arrive in Paris. However, Bolo's second wife was a strong witness on his behalf, as was his brother.[3] Senator Charles Humbert (whom Bolo had mentioned in his letter to the Royal Bank of Canada on March 14, 1916) was called as a witness. The senator testified "he never suspected for a moment that there was any hidden motive in the deal for the bonds of the newspaper."[3]

In his last appeal to the court, Albert Salles, Bolo's attorney, said:

Do not condemn Bolo Pasha to satisfy public opinion. Do not condemn him to satisfy public passion. Please do not permit yourselves to be the cause of a miscarriage of justice that will be bitterly regretted in after years.[3]

Salles' speech was to no avail. The court convicted Bolo and sentenced him to death. The conviction was based on circumstantial evidence, and the decision was handed down after only 15 minutes of deliberation.[3]

Bolo Pasha was executed in Vincennes, on the morning of April 17, 1918.[3]

After the execution, Georges Clemenceau, the Prime Minister of France addressed the American people:

This Bolo Pasha, who had had his way with everybody and in almost every situation, had met a strong man at last! Bolo Pasha was one of those gentlemen who began life by betraying women; he ended it by betraying nations. There is a great difference between betraying women and betraying nations! Women forgive and forget, but nations never, never! And so at the conclusion of their little interview Mr. Clemenceau escorted Bolo Pasha to the Forest of Vincennes, and placing him with his back to a wall, compelled him to face the business end of twelve French rifles. Bolo Pasha will never betray another nation. I want to tell you Americans that that is the only way to treat a traitor![4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i The New York times current history. v.13 1917 Oct-Dec. The New York Times Company. October 1917. pp. 282–283. 
  2. ^ "Arrest Bolo Pasha as German Agent". New York Times. 29 September 1917. Retrieved 11 February 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac George Barton (1919). Celebrated spies and famous mysteries of the great war. The Page Company. pp. 215–251. 
  4. ^ Annual report - The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York. 1918-1924. The Page Company. p. 31. 

Bolo Pacha: A Forgotten Story about Men & Women Who Made History in WWI

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