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Fugitive Botnar sues colleague

Octav Botnar, the former head of Nissan UK who fled to Switzerland three years ago rather than face arrest for fraud, has issued a writ against a former colleague through the London High Court.

In the latest bizarre twist of the fugitive millionaire's saga, Mr Botnar is suing former Nissan UK director Frank Shannon for more than pounds 500,000 after lending Mr Shannon the money to pay his legal fees.

This caused raised eyebrows yesterday at the Inland Revenue, which issued a warrant for Mr Botnar's arrest on fraud charges in January 1992, and still has the warrant ready for use if he returns from his home in Switzerland.

Mr Shannon, 62, the former financial director and company secretary of Nissan UK, pleaded guilty in 1993 to one charge of cheating the taxman between November 1985 and October 1986.

He was given a three-year prison sentence, half of which he served. During his involvement, said the trial judge, a total of pounds 17m was swindled from the taxman by a team of "sophisticated fraudsters."

The prosecution said the fraud started in 1976 and lasted 16 years. Bogus invoices and "sham" shipping agents in the Netherlands and Norway were used to inflate the costs of shipping Nissan vehicles from Japan to Britain by as much as 50 per cent, to conceal an extra profit averaging pounds 115 on each car and van.

The money was laundered through a Bermudan company and secret Swiss bank accounts. The cash then disappeared into a black hole - the term used by tax investigators who have failed to trace a single penny.

In July 1992 Mr Botnar lent Mr Shannon pounds 554,664.60 at Mr Shannon's request to meet his defence costs. The written loan agreement said that repayment was upon request and on 12 May this year Mr Botnar lodged a formal demand for the money. Two weeks later he issued the writ.

A spokeswoman for the Inland Revenue said yesterday: "Mr Botnar has been named as a co-conspirator in the indictment drawn up against two other directors of Nissan UK, Michael Hunt and Frank Shannon, who received jail sentences of eight and three years respectively."

Mr Botnar's UK lawyers, Jeffrey Green Russell, denied that there was anything odd in Mr Botnar using the UK legal system while there was still a warrant out for his arrest. The firm also denied he was a fugitive from British justice.

A member of the firm commented: "Mr Botnar has never been arrested, and he has never been charged. The allegations made against him have entirely been made in the context of trial of Shannon and Hunt."

The lawyer added that no attempt had been made to extradite Mr Botnar, and the details of the Inland Revenue's warrant covered the years 1975- 1983, the years for which Mr Shannon was acquitted.

This particular episode of the saga should end happily, however. Mr Shannon's solicitors say that he is about to repay the loan in full. "We feel the writ was a bit premature. It was a heavy handed thing to do."