After 17 years of self-imposed exile in Northern Cyprus, the former fugitive Asil Nadir is facing jail after he was convicted of plundering millions of pounds from his own business empire.
Nadir, 71, was found guilty of three counts of theft after a prosecution led by the Serious Fraud Office had accused him of stealing some £150 million from his companies to spend on family, cars and expensive properties. He was cleared of one count of theft and jurors will return to the Old Bailey today to consider a further nine.
The verdicts appeared to represent an error of judgment by Nadir, one of the country’s most famous fugitives of the last 20 years who returned to Britain after fleeing the country “a broken man” just before he was due to stand trial at the Old Bailey in 1993.
The businessman had denied 13 specimen charges of stealing £34 million between 1987 and 1990 and blamed the authorities for the failure of his near £2 billion fruit-to electronics group, Polly Peck International (PPI), in 1990. Nadir – whose wife Nur, 28, stood by the side of the Old Bailey dock – appeared shocked as the first verdicts were announced by the jury.
Nadir, a former rag salesman, bought Polly Peck for around £300,000 in 1980 before building it up with a series of mergers and acquisitions under his leadership into a sprawling empire that was one of the success stories of the 1980s. He purchased the fresh fruit division of Del Monte and acquired a major stake in Sansui, a Japanese electronics firm, during its period of growth.
However Nadir, the chairman and chief executive, was being questioned about large cash flows to Turkish and North Cypriot subsidiaries and he fought attempts for stricter financial controls to be introduced, the court heard. One employee who noted discrepancies “was told to keep his mouth shut".
He was chairman and chief executive when it collapsed with £550 million in debts in 1990, amid claims that he had siphoned money abroad through a network of offshore vehicles helped by associates. At the time of the collapse of the conglomerate, Nadir had a £350,000 salary plus the use of five company cars, including a Bentley Turbo and a Ferrari Testarossa and a company aeroplane, said Philip Shears, QC, for the prosecution.
The case led to end of the ministerial career of Michael Mates, the former Minister for Northern Ireland, who spoke out on behalf of Nadir and presented the businessman with a watch engraved on the back with: “Don’t let the buggers get you down” as he fought the charges against him.
The trial heard that the Turkish president had asked Margaret Thatcher and her government to intervene to save the crumbling business empire. President Turgut Ozal wrote to this counterpart to claim that PPI could have been a victim of those seeking to undermine the Turkish Cypriot economy on the divided island.
Nadir maintained direct control over the company directing its affairs in an “autocratic manner” and refusing to tolerate rival sources of power or to accept any restrictions on his actions, the eight-month trial was told.
Today he was found guilty of stealing £1.3 million to secretly buy Polly Peck shares to bolster the company’s value on the Stock Exchange. He was also found guilty of stealing £1m that was spent on antiques including a pair of fireplaces and of the theft of £3.25 million that was spent on family and business interests. He was cleared of stealing £2.5 million to pay a tax bill and to buy aircraft.
Nadir claimed that money was transferred to PPI subsidiaries in Northern Cyprus to balance the books but when administrators travelled there they found only a “black hole” in the accounts.
The prosecution sought to discredit financial documents produced by Nadir by suggesting that the cash deposits by his family would have weighed more than 135 tonnes, or if piled on top of each other would reach a height of some 300 times of that of Nelson’s Column.
Nadir told the trial that he fled in 1993 because he believed he had no chance of a fair trial. His flight came after the Serious Fraud Office had wrongly suggested that the trial judge in 1993 had been the subject of a bribery attempt by Nadir. Giving evidence, Nadir said that he was a “broken man with my health in tatters and my hopes for a fair trial in tatters.”