Nadir aide freed pending appeal

Elizabeth Forsyth, a former aide to fugitive Polly Peck tycoon Asil Nadir, was released from prison yesterday after the Appeal Court ruled her five-year sentence may have been too harsh. The 60-year-old grandmother was jailed last March for laundering pounds 400,000.

Outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London she said her time in prison had been an "experience". She said: "I learnt an awful lot. It was an education." She took up art in prison and was a library orderly.

"I'm looking forward to going home ... and it won't be an iron bed with a thin mattress," she said, adding that her son was arriving for a family reunion.

She declined to make any further comment as the appeal against her sentence and conviction continues today.

At the start of the hearing yesterday Lord Justice Beldam, one of three Appeal Court judges, stunned the court by inviting Geoffrey Robertson QC, representing Forsyth, to apply for bail. The judge said: "Taking into account the time your client has already served, it is probable the court might not require, if the conviction merited a custodial sentence, that she should serve any longer."

Lord Justice Beldam, Mrs Justice Bracewell and Mr Justice Mance later formally granted bail on the condition she lived with her mother, Margaret McAlpine in Great Dunmow, Essex, until the judgment of the Court of Appeal.

Her 90-year-old mother was "well pleased" about her daughter's release. When Forsyth was sentenced her lawyers had argued for leniency saying she should be allowed to care for her mother.

The appeal hearing today may take evidence from Nadir via a video link or recording. He fled to his native northern Cyprus in May 1993 while awaiting trial on fraud and theft charges involving pounds 150m. He cannot be extradited because the UK does not recognise the Turkish republic of northern Cyprus.

Nadir recruited Forsyth when she was working for Citibank and put her in charge of his personal company, South Audley Management, which administered the Nadir family interests.

Shares in Polly Peck, the fruits to electronics group, were one of the stock market's best performers during the 1980s before it collapsed in 1990 under a mountain of debt. When the company collapsed Forsyth was in northern Cyprus but she returned to Britain in September 1994 to try to clear her name.

Mr Robertson said Forsyth was never a conspirator handling stolen money but was involved in a "perfectly respectable" and legitimate secondary banking operation by Polly Peck International using its interests in northern Cyprus.

The operation's purpose was to utilise funds in the "soft, exotic" Turkish lira which was untradeable on world markets, being deposited with Polly Peck in northern Cyprus, a country recognised only by Turkey, Mr Robertson said.

During her five-week trial last year, the jury accepted that Forsyth had helped to launder money stolen from Polly Peck by Nadir. She was convicted on two counts of dishonestly handling pounds 400,000.

Her prison sentence was handed down by Justice Sir Richard Tucker. He said then a non-custodial sentence would be inappropriate and that while pounds 400,000 did not seem a large sum in comparison with the other amounts mentioned during the trial it was a large amount to most people.

Separately, administrators of Polly Peck International said it was impossible to recover a pounds 440,000 donation that the company made to the Conservative Party because the transactions involved were too complicated.

The donation was made in the late 1980s and Labour wants the Tories to return the money, and has accused the administrators of dragging their feet over the affair.

The administrators argue that the cost of trying to recoup the donation would be much higher than any possible gain.