A showbiz reception for the tycoon who fled in secret

Asil Nadir returns to Britain to face embezzlement charges – 17 years late

It must have been a sobering sight for the British officials who spent 17 years trying to bring Asil Nadir to justice, having to watch the fugitive businessman finally fly in yesterday in the company of the combative Sky News presenter Kay Burley.

After the privately chartered Airbus A320 touched down at Luton airport, shortly before 1.30pm, police climbed on board to process the immigration documents of a man accused of embezzling £34m from his Polly Peck empire in an era when a previous Tory prime minister was in Downing Street and the term Britpop was just being invented.

His arrival was hardly a surprise. Before taking off, Mr Nadir had given an interview to the Radio 4 Today programme. He brought a reporter from The Times with him on the journey back to Britain, and took advantage of a stopover in Turkey to film the second of a three-part interview with Ms Burley, the opening sequence having been shot at his North Cyprus villa.

The third section of the interview was shot mid-flight in the aisle of the Airbus, Mr Nadir leaning calmly on a headrest as Ms Burley asked him what his "over-riding emotion" was as he returned to Britain. "Anticipation," said the fugitive, barely audible over the roar of the engines. "Anticipation that I will now, for the first time after 17 years,..." "...Can I just stop you there!" interjected the Sky presenter, demanding that Mr Nadir wipe a barely visible mark from his lip before completing his sentence. It was the only hitch in an otherwise meticulously planned operation.

Although Mr Nadir remains innocent until convicted, his fugitive's return has similarities with that of Ronnie Biggs. The Great Train Robber avoided the clutches of Scotland Yard while sunning himself in Brazil for 30 years before finally returning home in 2001, in the company of a reporter from The Sun.

Given that Mr Nadir had been due to stand trial in 1993 but fled the country in a private plane to live for nearly two decades in luxury in North Cyprus, the authorities may have wanted to slap an electronic tag on him as soon as he stepped on British soil. As it was, they looked on as he jumped into a grey Jaguar and was driven with his wife, Nur, to an apartment in Mayfair. He later emerged to tell reporters: "Everybody should be deemed innocent before they are proven guilty. Why do you think I'm here voluntarily?"

Mr Nadir, who absconded when facing 66 charges of theft and false accounting, is due to attend the Old Bailey next Thursday. After the hearing it is expected that he will be fitted with an electronic tag ahead of a trial that may not take place until 2012.

Now 69, he is paying £20,000 a month for his London accommodation and has returned to Britain in the company of three bodyguards and a legal team from the London firm Bark & Co.

A former rag salesman, he built up his fruit to electronics business to become one of the wealthiest men in Britain, with a string of luxury properties and racehorses and an island in the Aegean. He was a donor to the Conservative Party, and Michael Mates, then Tory minister for Northern Ireland, had commiserated with him by giving him a watch with the engraved message: "Don't let the buggers get you down". Mr Mates resigned over the matter.

Mr Nadir claimed yesterday that he fled justice because he had been ill and could not withstand the pressures of a trial. He now feels that he will receive a fair hearing.