Botnar pays up pounds 50m to settle tax dispute

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The Independent Online
Octav Botnar, the former Nissan car magnate, paid pounds 50m to the Inland Revenue over the weekend in "full and final payment" of a hotly disputed pounds 250m corporation tax bill arising from his lucrative trade in imported Nissan vehicles.

The deal, which caps five years of acrimonious disagreement between Mr Botnar and the Revenue, clears the way for the tycoon's return to Britain from Switzerland, where he has been living since the dispute flared in 1991.

A formal statement will be made today by the Inland Revenue. Mr Botnar is expected to make a hard-hitting statement in court, decrying the attitude of the tax authorities and accusing them of "blackmail" in forcing the partial payment. He is believed to have decided to capitulate once it became clear that the Revenue had no intention of ending its campaign to force a settlement. Mr Botnar, who is 83, wanted to return to Britain and enjoy the time remaining to him, a source said last night.

"This was never about the money," the source said. "It was a matter of principle to him." He made the deal, it is said, because he "just wanted to get on with his life".

The tax bill arose out of Mr Botnar's Nissan import business, which he began in the early 1970s at a time when very few Britons appeared to like the Japanese cars. He amassed a fortune estimated at up to pounds 2bn, thanks to an exclusive agreement with the Japanese car company that lasted until 1991.

The Inland Revenue launched an investigation that year into Mr Botnar's Worthing-based business, which ultimately led to the imprisonment of two Nissan UK executives. The Revenue argued that Mr Botnar owed pounds 250m in corporation tax and a further pounds 60m in personal income tax, although the latter demand was subsequently dropped. Mr Botnar and his wife had been on holiday in Switzerland, and elected not to return.

The Inland Revenue had vowed to continue the fight for as long as it took to settle, and Mr Botnar would have been effectively barred from ever returning to Britain.