Asil Nadir returns to the UK

Polly Peck was touted as the ultimate success story of the eighties. Acquired by Nadir for a song at the start of the decade, it had been transformed from a small fruit trading business into an international conglomerate with interests across multiple sectors and a market cap of £1.7bn. But by 1990, Nadir's empire was beginning to crumble.

That was the year that Serious Fraud Office (SFO) began investigation Polly Peck and Nadir.  The authorities alleged that several million-pound cash sums had been transferred out of Polly Peck and into several accounts in northern Cyprus. These transfers amounted to some £36m. After the allegations went public, and Nadir's home was raided by police, Polly Peck ceased trading with liabilities of £1.3bn.

By May 1993, when the Cyprus-born entrepreneur finally fled Britain, he had collected 66 charges of theft and false accounting. While not technically a fugitive from justice, Nadir absconded the day after his bail expired without alerting the authorities. Speaking to the BBC from his seat aboard a flight back to the UK this morning, he says: "I was a free man when I left. I am hoping that the term fugitive does not apply to me."

But why come back at all?

This is pure conjecture, but my theory is that Nadir - a compulsive wheeler dealer - is itching to get back in the saddle. His business interests have slowly frittered away, as has his personal fortune. It is possible that the remnants of his property holdings, once worth up to £40m, have substantially devalued as a result of the financial crisis. He may still hold considerable political influence in his native country but he has been a virtual prisoner in his Northern Cyprus home for 17 long years. At 69 years old, the entrepreneur is probably seeking a last hurrah. One last venture to see him into his twilight years and ensure a safe financial future for his young wife Nur and his family.

There is also rumour of a deal. He denies this completely: "There is no deal. There is only one deal and that deal is that I am hoping I will see for the first time some justice." However, Nadir does not deny that he has been involved in talks with the authorities to allow him to return, albeit under electronic surveillance with a £250,000 bail on his head.

Nadir is vehement about his innocence, insisting that he has been denied a fair hearing. "When the charges were brought, I proved my innocence to the authorities. But at that time, no one took any notice." He even suggests that it could be the Serious Fraud Office itself that comes under scrutiny. "The abuse of process by the authorities will be the first case investigated," he says. Despite his protestations, there's no denying that at the time of Polly Peck's collapse, creditors were eventually paid a pitiful 2.9p for every pound owed. Shareholders, incidentally, got nothing.

This will be a fascinating case to watch pan out. An entrepreneur, fallen from grace, returns to clear his name. Hell, it has the makings of a great Hollywood blockbuster. We'll keep you posted as the story develops.

Picture: Cristiano Betta


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