Botnar to return as warrants lifted

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Octav Botnar, the founder of Nissan UK,

is to return to Britain following the Inland Revenue's decision yesterday to withdraw two arrest warrants issued on charges of cheating the authorities out of pounds 300m in tax revenues. Michael Harrison reports on the latest twist in an extraordinary six-year legal wrangle.

Associates of Mr Botnar said yesterday that it was the intention of the 84-year-old millionaire to return to Britain to visit the grave of his daughter Camelia, even though his health is now said to be in a "perilous state".

This emerged as Mr Botnar, who has been forced to live as a "fugitive from justice" in Switzerland since 1992, hit out in a blistering attack on the Revenue's long and dogged pursuit of him.

One adviser said: "He has still got the brains and the energy even though his body may be falling apart. He has not seen his daughter's grave in five years and quite apart from that there are a lot of people who would like to see him back. I don't think he wil be short of invitations to return."

In an application yesterday to magistrates in Worthing, the former home of Nissan UK's headquarters, the Revenue said it was withdrawing the arrest warrants on medical advice after studying a doctor's report. Counsel for the Revenue said: "It is clear from these reports that Mr Botnar would be unlikely to survive a long criminal hearing."

The development brings to an end the six-year battle between Mr Botnar and the taxmen that began in June, 1991 when 135 Inland Revenue offices launched an unprecedented raid on the home and offices of Mr Botnar, Nissan UK, and its auditors and tax advisers accompanied by television cameras.

The raid led to charges that several Nissan UK executives, including Mr Botnar, had cheated the Revenue out of millions of pounds by falsely inflating the prices they were paying to import Nissan cars from Japan, declaring lower profits and evading corporation tax. Two arrest warrants were issued in 1992 and 1995 and two other Nissan executives were subsequently tried and imprisoned.

Mr Botnar, who has always denied the charges, agreed to pay the Revenue pounds 59m last year to settle its corporation tax claim against the company.

Mr Botnar dismissed the Revenue's explanation for withdrawing the arrest warrants and claimed the real reason for its action was to avoid appearing in court for a two day hearing scheduled to begin on 19 November.

"These excuses do not bear examination. The Revenue has known for four and a half years of the perilous state of my health, following surgery for the removal of my entire stomach in 1993."

Mr Botnar, who has lived since 1992 in Villars, in the Swiss Alps, said the Revenue knew it never had any chance of prosecuting him but had maintained the warrants to put pressure on him to agree to a further financial settlement.