17 years on run – now a 12-month wait for a trial

After 17 years on the run in northern Cyprus, the fugitive tycoon Asil Nadir finally returned to face British justice yesterday but was immediately told he will have to wait another year before his trial is heard.

Arriving at the Old Bailey in a chauffeur-driven car – one of three vehicles in a cavalcade – the former owner of the Polly Peck business empire said nothing to the waiting reporters, a marked difference from his heavily media-attended, co-ordinated return to the UK last month.

Inside Court Nine he took his place behind the Perspex screen of the dock and claimed, via his barrister, that despite his 17 years on the run, he was impatient for the trial to begin.

"Mr Nadir is very anxious to have this case heard as soon as possible," William Clegg QC told the court, arguing that the prosecution should be able to prepare the new charges against his client within 28 days.

But the judge, Mr Justice Bean, disagreed. Ruling that the prosecution could have until December to prepare their case, he said: "The 17-year delay is not the fault of the prosecution. It is the fault of Mr Nadir."

Mr Justice Bean added that he hoped the hearing would mark a closure of the "legal limbo" which had been in effect since Mr Nadir fled the country in 1993, fearing he would not be given a fair trial.

The UK has no extradition agreement with the Turkish Cypriot government in northern Cyprus.

Mr Nadir was originally charged with 66 offences of theft which alleged a £34m fraud following the collapse of his Polly Peck empire.

He arrived back in the UK last month after declaring that he wanted to fight the case. His last court appearance was an informal hearing in London. It was later found he was not technically on bail, explaining why he was not arrested on his return to the UK.

The delay in preparing the case against Mr Nadir is that there may not be enough evidence to proceed with the original charges. The prosecution told the Old Bailey yesterday that they needed to trace 183 witnesses to ensure that they were still alive and willing to testify before they could present the defence with a new indictment against Mr Nadir.

Wearing a blue suit and gold-rimmed glasses, Mr Nadir spoke only to confirm his identity during the hour-long hearing. The 62-year-old occasionally yawned and smiled to his 26-year-old wife, Nur, who was sitting in the public gallery.

At the end of the hearing he was allowed to leave on bail, with the restrictions that he must wear an electronic tag and be in his home between the hours of midnight and 6am. He must also report to Chelsea police station once a week.

The court heard that he had surrendered his passports – British and Turkish – upon his arrival in the UK and that a bail surety of £250,000 had been posted with the City of London Magistrates' Court.

After being told he would be required back at the Old Bailey for another hearing on 15 October, Mr Nadir left the court to a waiting media circus. Waving and smiling at photographers, he stepped into his Jaguar alongside his wife and sped off in his convoy.

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