Britain may have done you an injustice after all. After every new sleaze explosion, your flight to northern Cyprus seems more logical, your suggestions of a set-up more credible.

It's curious how Middle Eastern businessmen seem to assume Britain is a fortress of financial ethics. After the collapse of your pounds 1.3bn Polly Peck company, with its diverse interests in fruit, shipping and leisure, you began making sounds strangely similar to those made by Mohamed al-Fayed last week.

The Establishment is not what it seems, is the gist of it. Under the lustre of handcrafted suits, private education, and estuary speech, lies a network of nods and winks, and backhanders as complex as the politics of an Egyptian bazaar.

The collapse of Polly Peck didn't only hurt you - it hurt thousands of shareholders. The Fayed affair is, if anything, worse. It hurts all of us.

It raises the question of how many representatives have stood for Parliament to improve their lifestyles. It leaves us doubting the resilience of democracy, and - worse for the 57 per cent of people who didn't vote Tory in 1992 - a dread that Britain might end up with a permanent party of government and a permanent party of opposition.

Mr Fayed was probably more nave - or noble - than you. He intervened on several occasions with the Sultan of Brunei to persuade him to invest in sterling and British defence companies. According to David Douglas-Home, a director of the bankers Morgan Grenfell, Mr Fayed helped British companies to secure contracts worth billions of dollars, and says he would do so again, since he did it for the country (take note, Mark Thatcher).

His mistake was to assume political friends would stick by him as soon as a hint of trouble tainted the air. Even now, he is inviting his affairs to be re-scrutinised by investigative journalists. That is the way the media system works: revelation, counter-revelation, Nemesis.

Ensconced in Cyprus, you are cagier in your denunciation of politicians. You prefer allusive cynicism to detailed revelation. It may be, as the Serious Fraud Office claims, you really are a nasty piece of work. After all, you're wanted on 13 theft and false accounting charges. Or it may be you're an adroit public relations man.

Whatever the truth, the nuisance is that a sleaze factor in government - even connected with peanuts like a few grand and a hotel bill - gives credibility to all suspected wrongdoers with political connections.

Britain, of course, is not unique. President Clinton has had his problems with Whitewater. In Europe, Italy has led the way in major scandals. That's politics. In fact, that's life. The difference - according to Mr Fayed - is that Britain attracts those who desire a sort of purity in business affairs.

As you sit in the sun by the beautiful Aegean, you can reflect with irony that it is only a matter of time before some media wag puts you forward as an ideal Minister for Business Probity.

Richard Tyrell

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