Exile finds pounds 7m award is out of his reach

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The Independent Online
OCTAV BOTNAR, chairman of the car distributor Nissan UK and once one of Britain's wealthiest businessmen, has a habit of being out of the country when significant events happen in his life.

Three Christmases ago he was holidaying on the Continent when the shock news came through that the Japanese car maker Nissan Motor was ending his contract to distribute its cars, a business worth nearly pounds 1bn a year.

The 79-year-old emigre was abroad again yesterday when a High Court judge awarded him more than pounds 7m in damages against Nissan Motor, one of the many disputes that led to their parting company after two decades.

This time the reason for Mr Botnar's absence is different. The British authorities officially class him as a 'fugitive from justice'. Nissan UK likes to think of its chairman as being 'exiled'.

His persecutor is the Inland Revenue, which alleges Mr Botnar has defrauded it out of pounds 100m and has issued a warrant for his arrest. Mr Botnar has served notice, however, that he has no intention of returning from Switzerland, where he lives. While there he cannot be extradited to face trial but nor can he collect his damages.

'His position is quite clear,' a spokesman said. 'He would love to come back to the UK but if he does he will be arrested and forced to sit in a courtroom for six to nine months listening to people making allegations about him. Because of his health, his doctors and lawyers have advised him not to.'

To Mr Botnar, yesterday's award against Nissan Motor - pounds 6m in damages, pounds 900,000 in interest and pounds 200,000 costs for reneging on an agreement to pay him for getting rid of 12,700 unwanted Bluebird cars - was round two in a long fight.

He lost round one when a Japanese arbitration panel ruled he had no grounds for compensation from Nissan Motor for termination of his contract. Mr Botnar said: 'I did not get justice in Japan but I have justice in Britain.'

Round three begins later this month when two of Mr Botnar's former directors go on trial on tax evasion charges also brought by the Inland Revenue.