Britain has little hope of getting Nadir back: Prosecutors left fuming as fugitive tycoon throws a party in Cyprus

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The Independent Online
INTENSE diplomatic efforts are under way to secure the return of Asil Nadir from Turkish northern Cyprus. The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) was trying yesterday to ensure that blame for the bankrupt businessman's flight rested firmly with the court system.

Nadir, who is alleged to have stolen more than pounds 155m from his former Polly Peck business empire, left the country secretly on Tuesday night for his home in northern Cyprus, using a private jet.

On arrival, he was greeted like a hero and told a Turkish-Cypriot journalist: 'No words can express the happiness I feel coming back to my people.' He then flew by helicopter to his villa in Lapta, eight miles west of the coastal town of Kyrenia, where last night a party was being held. Surrounded by family and friends, Nadir shut out a large British and Turkish press corps gathering on the island.

It is understood that his long-time tax adviser and consultant Elizabeth Forsyth and his former secretary Aisling Daly are also in Cyprus.

Nadir was due to appear at the Old Bailey today for a hearing before Mr Justice Macpherson. His full trial, on charges of theft and false accounting, was due to start in September. He was freed on record bail of pounds 3.5m in December 1990.

His flight may leave Ramadan Guney, a north London businessman, and Aysegul Nadir, Nadir's former wife, with a bill of pounds 1.5m. They stood surety for pounds 1m and pounds 500,000 respectively. The remaining pounds 2m of bail money was put up in cash by Nadir. Britain has no extradition treaty with northern Cyprus and is unlikely to be able to force his return. Rauf Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leader, refused a demand for assistance by David Dain, the British High Commissioner for northern Cyprus.

Mr Denktash said: 'What can be done from a legal point of view will be done. If there is nothing to be done, nothing will be done.'

He said on BBC television: 'How can we deliver Mr Nadir to the British unless we organise a kidnapping gang for him? Legally we cannot do it because he is protected under our constitution. We cannot apprehend him because he has committed no crime in Cyprus.'

A Foreign Office spokesman insisted: 'The matter will not be allowed to rest there.' It is likely now to attempt to apply pressure on Turkey to persuade the Turkish Cypriots to change their attitude, but without much hope of success.

Following the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974 and its subsequent partition, the UK refused to recognise northern Cyprus as a separate state. Nevertheless, the SFO, which is responsible for prosecuting the criminal case against Nadir, is likely to apply for a warrant for his arrest, possibly at today's hearing.

The apparent ease with which the former Polly Peck tycoon was able to skip bail has outraged observers. Alistair Darling, Labour's City affairs spokesman, said: 'It does undermine our whole system of justice.'

The SFO said it was unclear yet whether it would be able to press ahead with the case in Nadir's absence. It insisted that it had always said he should have been held in custody. 'At Asil Nadir's first court appearance the SFO opposed bail. The main ground of opposition was the fear that Mr Nadir would abscond.'

At Nadir's initial bail hearing before Sir David Hopkin, the chief metropolitan magistrate, the SFO stressed that the defendant had no strong ties to Britain. It also pointed to Britain's lack of an extradition treaty with northern Cyprus.

The Home Office refused to comment yesterday on the wisdom of the decision to grant bail. But it pointed out that the Government was supporting a private member's Bill that would enable the prosecution to appeal against a magistrate's decision to give bail.

As well as facing the criminal charges, Nadir is being sued in the civil courts for pounds 378m by Polly Peck's administrators following that company's collapse with debts of more than pounds 1.3bn.

The administrators, Richard Stone of Coopers & Lybrand, Christopher Morris of Touche Ross and Neil Cooper of Robson Rhodes, Nadir's trustee in bankruptcy, said Nadir's flight would make little difference to their attempts to recover assets on behalf of creditors, since Nadir had not co-operated with the proceedings for some time.

Nadir may have been prompted to flee to Cyprus by the imminence of his trial. From the beginning of his problems in 1990, he and his associates have claimed that he was unlikely to receive a fair trial in Britain. One source close to the fugitive said last night: 'How could he have mounted a defence against the might of the SFO after the trustee in bankruptcy seized all Mr Nadir's papers two weeks ago?'

Not everybody in northern Cypriot politics was happy about Mr Nadir's return. Ozker Ozgur, leader of the dissident Republican Party, said he thought the bankrupt businessman was giving the island a bad name and threatening Britain's relations with Turks in Cyprus and Turkey.

'The statements of innocence that he has been making for months are now hanging in the air. This will look as though he accepts the accusations of guilt, and it makes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus look as though it has become a hideout for criminals,' Mr Ozgur said.

Nadir's flight, page 3

View from City Road, page 30

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