Nadir `might return' after aide freed

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The Independent Online
Asil Nadir, former boss of the collapsed Polly Peck International, said yesterday that he might return to the UK after the acquittal of his former aide, Elizabeth Forsyth, who was jailed for five years last April for allegedly handling cash stolen by her boss.

Speaking from his office in Nicosia, Cyprus, a defiant Mr Nadir said: "I am delighted at the news. Now all that is required is for a judicial inquiry into the handling of this whole matter and I'll be back. I'm not prepared to let matters rest."

He is meeting his legal advisers next month to mount an attack on the Serious Fraud Office, which brought the original charges against him and Mrs Forsyth.

"I want to know who has been guiding them in this matter. I was right when I complained that the tax man Michael Alcock was a crook and I was right when I said Elizabeth Forsyth was innocent. Now I intend to prove my own innocence."

Mr Nadir fled from the UK to Cyprus by private plane in May 1993 after a two-and-a half-year SFO investigation had produced charges that he had stolen pounds 30m from Polly Peck and had taken part in false accounting exercises.

Mrs Forsyth, 60, was convicted on two counts of handling pounds 400,000 that the prosecution claimed was stolen during the collapse of Mr Nadir's pounds 1.3bn fruit to electronics business empire. She spent 10 months in jail and was released on bail at the start of her appeal in January.

Yesterday after her conviction was quashed and she was awarded costs estimated at more than pounds 1m, she said: "This has been hanging over my head for seven years now. I believe the Serious Fraud Office tried to ruin me."

Her acquittal becomes the latest of several embarrassing setbacks in court for the Serious Fraud Office that include Maxwell, Guinness II, Guinness IV, Brent Walker, Blue Arrow and the Roger Levitt case. In defence of its record, the SFO claims that out of a total of 349 defendants 219 had been convicted and that at least one defendant, usually the principal offender, was convicted in 75 per cent of the cases brought.

The appeal court found the judge in Mrs Forsyth's original prosecution, Mr Justice Tucker, had misdirected the jury.

At the appeal court yesterday Lord Justice Beldam, sitting with Mrs Justice Bracewell and Mr Justice Mance, took just 10 minutes to deliver the delayed verdict, although the written account of their deliberations ran to 50 pages.

Outside the court Mrs Forsyth, who has been supported by her 90-year old-mother and son Ian McAlpine said: "I hope the SFO offer compensation for 10 months' wrongful imprisonment. If they don't I shall take legal advice as to how to secure appropriate compensation. My conviction was not quashed on technical grounds. The appeal judges clearly thought that this was a scapegoat prosecution."

Mrs Forsyth, who worked for Citibank before heading Mr Nadir's personal management company, Audley Management, plans a short family holiday in Scotland.

But yesterday within half an hour of the judgment she had phoned Mr Nadir in northern Cyprus. "He was delighted on my behalf and I expect to go out to visit him on a business trip within the next month or so," she said.

"I believe that Mr Nadir will ultimately be vindicated and that the investors in Polly Peck will be properly compensated for the losses they have suffered as a result of the actions of the SFO," she added.

Many observers of the Polly Peck saga believe that Mrs Forsyth was in effect a legal stalking horse for her boss.

She returned to Britain voluntarily in 1994 to face SFO questions. And many were shocked at the severity of her sentence. At that time her solicitor, Peter Kravinskas, accused the judge of seeing Mr Nadir in the dock when he passed sentence.

Mr Nadir said yesterday: "Although I'm personally pleased for Elizabeth I feel that this whole episode shows British justice in a poor light. The judge, Mr Justice Tucker, clearly lost his objectivity and he thought that by punishing Mrs Forsyth he was somehow punishing me.

"The press say I am a fugitive from justice - I say what justice. I was not on bail when I came here. I left because I knew the case against me was being seriously mishandled. Now perhaps some people of good faith will start to look at what has gone on here."