Nearly two decades after fleeing to Cyprus by private jet to escape 66 charges of fraud and embezzlement, "the Sultan of Berkeley Square" is preparing to face the music, says The Daily Telegraph. Asil Nadir, the fugitive tycoon accused of stealing £35m from investors before the calamitous collapse of his Polly Peck empire in 1990, will be back in Britain for a preliminary court hearing in September. It promises to be one of the most high-profile fraud trials in years.
Nadir, who claims he was stitched up by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO, see below), has been agitating for his day in court for years. But having endured a traumatic night in Brixton jail at the height of the Polly Peck scandal, he refused to leave the safety of Turkish Cyprus (which has no extradition treaty with Britain) unless granted bail ahead of his trial. An Old Bailey judge has finally agreed.
Nadir considers himself a victim, says the Daily Mail. "His sense of hurt is amplified by the fact that he has been vilified by a nation and a system that he wholeheartedly bought into." He serves tea in China cups at his heavily guarded mountain villa and dreams of a green Home Counties landscape populated by "decent chaps" just like him.
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The names of Nadir's pet parrots, Polly and Peck, hint at a mischievous nature. Indeed, Nadir, 69, used his "Mediterranean charm" to dupe City auditors, banks, institutional shareholders and the media for years, claims The Business. Arriving in Britain with his Turkish Cypriot parents in the 1960s, he started out as a rag-trader before spotting a gap in the market to import fruit from Cyprus.
A series of audacious takeovers during the Thatcher era saw him transform a tired hosiery brand, Polly Peck, into a roaring FTSE 100 conglomerate, straddling electronics, fashion and fruit. At its peak, his empire was worth £2.2bn, delivering returns to shareholders of up to 1,000 times their original investment.
With wealth came influence, says The Guardian. After donating some £4.4m to the Tories, Nadir became a frequent guest at 10 Downing Street. He owned luxury properties in London, and Leicestershire, an Aegean island and a dozen race horses. He also enjoyed a series of romantic liaisons. "Five times a night?" scoffed Nadir, when told of the sexual exploits of rival tycoon, former Burtons boss Ralph Halpern. "He can't be doing it right."
The eventual unravelling was swift. In 1990, Nadir's stockbrokers lodged a bankruptcy petition over payment for £3.6m of Polly Peck shares. The SFO was brought in and the company collapsed with debts of £1.3bn. Shortly before his trial in May 1993, he drove to Dorset to board a secretly chartered jet loaded with champagne and caviar. His departure, notes The Observer, "was as flamboyant and arrogant as the man himself".
Why is he coming back now?
Nadir, whose investments once accounted for a third of Cyprus's economy, arrived on the island to a hero's welcome. But he left a trail of carnage in his wake. Polly Peck creditors were eventually paid just 2.9p in the pound, says the Daily Mail; "shareholders got nothing". Two of Nadir's associates his former secretary and the pilot who flew him out of Britain were briefly jailed, although their convictions were later quashed on appeal.
Perhaps the highest-profile casualty of the affair, however, was the Tory minister, Michael Mates, who famously gave Nadir a watch inscribed "Don't let the buggers get you down". Mates was forced to resign from the Cabinet in 1993 after it emerged that he had lobbied the attorney-general on Nadir's behalf, at the behest of the latter's PR man. But subsequent allegations that the SFO tampered with the evidence (and supplied the prosecution with details of Nadir's defence) may at least partially vindicate Mates's view that Nadir was "a victim of conspiracy", says The Independent. If the Tories are groaning at the return of this ghost from the early 1990s, the SFO has even more reason to be agitated.
The timing of Nadir's return is interesting, says the Daily Mail. Some think that his decision "to re-test the water" may be linked to the change of UK government. His position is also threatened by Turkey's proposed EU membership and possibility of a fast-track European Arrest Warrant being applied.
Nadir may also be feeling the pinch: last year he faced problems over a £4m tax demand on his Cyprus-based Kibris Media Group. Ultimately, though, the reason may be more prosaic. After years of self-imposed exile, Cyprus has begun to feel "like an open prison", say friends. "There are only so many beautiful sunsets a man like Nadir can take in a lifetime."
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