View from City Road: Asil does a runner, and the taxpayer a favour

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The Independent Online
How many hard-pressed parents have wished secretly for their daughters to elope, and save the cost of a marquee, a reception and lots of embarrassing speeches? Asil Nadir has left the country, presumably for good, and it is hard to see that this outcome to the sorry saga of Polly Peck is as bad as it is being painted.

There will of course be lots of justifiable hand-wringing about how Nadir made asses of the police, the Serious Fraud Office, the courts and airport security, while the diplomatic efforts to bring him back could occupy much Foreign Office time and complicate what little dealings Britain has with northern Cyprus.

The SFO complained yesterday that the courts had refused to remand Nadir in custody despite its openly expressed fears that he would bolt.

This would have been all very well had he been accused of a commonplace crime such as burglary, but complex fraud cases involving large companies take an interminable time to come to court. It would have been a nonsense to put Nadir inside for a nearly three-year wait.

Indeed, if he were to be convicted, the penalty after remission could well be less than this. Long sentences are still rare for white-collar crime.

In the event, instead of a contested trial and the possibility - no more - of a brief spell in Ford open prison, the taxpayer stands to gain, while Nadir will be damaged where it hurts - in the pocket. There is pounds 3.5m of bail at stake, pounds 2m of it Nadir's, which will be forfeited, and pounds 1.5m belonging to his friends, who will have to argue for their money in court.

This is the equivalent of a very stiff fine indeed: see it as one of the new-style regulatory penalties the SFO would like to see introduced into fraud trials. Furthermore, the trial due to start in the autumn would have cost several million pounds of our money.

Northern Cyprus is a very pleasant place, but Nadir will have about as much freedom to travel as Ronnie Biggs after his flight to Brazil, and in a tiny and claustrophobic country at that. One false move to somewhere with an extradition treaty and he will be back at Heathrow before he can peel one of his famous oranges. We should be cross that he left, but pleased he has gone.

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