'Beelzebub' property baron bids to rescue African airline

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The Independent Online

Nicholas van Hoogstraten, the notorious Brighton property baron once dubbed by a judge as a "self-styled emissary of Beelzebub", looks set to return to the headlines as the moneyman behind an attempt to rescue Air Zimbabwe and revive its London-Harare route.

The 68-year-old was convicted, jailed and then acquitted for the manslaughter of a business associate, Mohammed Raja, a little over a decade ago. He has since spent much of his time in Zimbabwe, where he is said to be the country's biggest landowner and a friend of President Robert Mugabe.

Africa Confidential reported last night that he was being courted to lend at least $15m ($9.3m) to Air Zimbabwe for it to fly new routes in an effort to put its mothballed planes back to work. Air Zimbabwe went bust last year but partially resumed flights in the spring of this year.

However, it remains heavily lossmaking and has debts of more than $140m.

Mr Van Hoogstraten will be asked to lend the money for 180 days with warrants over the airline's assets.

Mr Van Hoogstraten last year claimed he had changed his bully-boy ways of the "bad old days", telling the Argus newspaper: "I'm certainly not a rogue landlord any more."