Comment: Botnar's sentence should be to stay in Switzerland

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The Independent Online
Botnar's sentence should be to stay in Switzerland

The saga of Octav Botnar's Nissan UK is a frustrating one all round. Five years after the Inland Revenue went in under the blaze of television lights in search of tax fraud, they have had to settle for less than a sixth of the pounds 300m originally demanded. Meanwhile, the elusive Mr Botnar remains safely beyond the clutches of the Revenue's arrest warrant on the shores of Lake Geneva. The business he founded, which once employed 600 people and was worth pounds 400m, is pretty well on the rocks.

Mr Botnar, even from his extradition-proof haven, remains a bitter man as the 10-page rant he issued through his London solicitors yesterday demonstrates. It is the usual and by now jaded rehash of how the beastly Japanese ganged up to rob him of a car distribution business built up over 30 years and how the Revenue connived in helping destroy it.

Not everyone loves the Japanese and few people have a good word to say about the Revenue, but please Mr Botnar. Not even the Revenue deserves to be likened to "the terror police in former communist countries" which you say you fled when you arrived in Britain all those years ago.

In some respects, the pounds 59m Mr Botnar has agreed to cough up to resolve all civil proceedings between him, Nissan UK and the Revenue, is not a bad deal. If Mr Botnar is right and his business now only has assets worth pounds 90m, it might have proved an expensive waste of taxpayers money bringing the case to court.

The question now is what to do about Mr Botnar himself, who remains the subject of an arrest warrant on tax fraud charges and is thus officially classed as a fugitive from justice. Though in rude health when he was last seen on these shores, Mr Botnar is 83 and not getting any younger. Having gotten the money out of him, would it be oppressive to arrest him the moment he returned to Britain, and stage a criminal show trial?

The answer is probably yes. It should not, however, be forgotten that two Nissan UK executives, did go to trial and ended up doing time. One of them, Michael Hunt, remains stuck in an open prison with the occasional release for community service. Perhaps the best sentence for Mr Botnar is for him to remain in Switzerland, or Germany or Spain or whichever holiday home he currently resides in, festering away in his own bitterness and at the injustice of it all.