He arrived in a private jet; he left in a prison van. After 22 years noisily proclaiming his innocence, the former fugitive Asil Nadir was facing a long jail term last night after he was convicted of stealing £28.6m from the multinational empire that he led to one of Britain's biggest corporate failures.
Nadir, 71, was convicted of 10 counts of multimillion-pound theft from Polly Peck International, the company he built into one of the stock market favourites of the 1980s. The tycoon, who fled the country by private aeroplane in 1993 for 17 years of self-imposed exile in Northern Cyprus, used the proceeds of his thefts to prop up the company's share price and his lavish lifestyle of luxury cars, property, art and racehorses.
Nadir now faces a prison visit from administrators chasing £374m on behalf of the creditors who were left with virtually nothing after PPI collapsed with £550m of debts. The tycoon, who will be sentenced today, is also likely to face demands for compensation of at least £60m next month – which could result in a further jail term of up to 10 years if he does not pay up. The question of why Nadir, a major Tory Party donor who had the ear of its leadership in the 1980s, decided to return to Britain in 2010 remains unclear. He lived in a beautiful seaside villa with a young wife and two parrots, Polly and Peck. He was politically influential in the Turkish section of the divided island and remained out of reach of Britain's extradition laws.
For a man who described himself in court as a business "visionary", his return to face trial to right a "burning injustice" was shown to be remarkably short-sighted. He arrived on a privately chartered plane accompanied by a television news team and was taken by car to a £20,000-a-month rented house in Mayfair which he shared with his second wife, Nur, 28.
He remained on bail on an electronic tag – backed by a round-the-clock security team, lawyers and a public relations firm – until he was convicted on the first of the theft counts on Monday.
Nadir, who had denied all the 13 charges and was cleared of three, did not react to the latest guilty verdicts and listened to the judge with his chin on his fists, flanked by two security officers.
Mrs Nadir indicated that her husband would appeal against the verdict. "A guilty man does not come back to face justice of his own accord," she said. "Polly Peck was his life. This unhappy affair is certainly not over yet."
It can be reported today that Nadir twice tried – and failed – to have the case thrown out after accusing a senior Serious Fraud Office (SFO) official of a "Watergate-style cover-up" after bundles of confidential material meant only for the tycoon and his legal team were copied and circulated by investigators after a raid on one of his businesses. He also tried to avoid trial on health grounds two days before the case was due to start.
Had he been cleared of all the charges, there was speculation that Nadir could have sued the SFO. He ended his period as one of Britain's longest-serving bankrupts after returning to the UK and could have kept any proceeds he had made from legal action, according to legal sources.
The verdict vindicated the SFO's pursuit of the flamboyant magnate. Its budget had been cut after a string of high-profile setbacks and it had only narrowly survived a shake-up of British law enforcement. David Green, who took over as director in April, described the conviction as "a remarkable achievement".
Nadir bought Polly Peck in 1980 for £300,000 and under his autocratic leadership expanded it to a company worth nearly £2bn, trading everything from fruit to kettles, after a series of acquisitions including Del Monte and Russell Hobbs. He became one of the country's richest men, with a string of luxury properties, race horses and an island in the Aegean. But after the SFO started investigating, his empire collapsed with huge debts and the loss of some 17,000 jobs. Creditors were left penniless after Nadir siphoned money abroad through a network of offshore vehicles, helped by associates.
The £28.6m he was found guilty of stealing – the equivalent of nearly £62m today – is believed to be a fraction of the £380m or more that he shifted abroad, according to the SFO.
So far only £2.8m of assets have been recovered and none repatriated from Northern Cyprus, said Kevin Hellard, a partner at Grant Thornton, who is leading attempts to retrieve money from Nadir. He expects others to come forward with details of hidden assets now that Nadir had been convicted. "Now that the trial process has completed, we will continue to press Mr Nadir to deal with outstanding questions and will interview him in prison if necessary," he said.
Five art works bought by Nadir, including oil paintings, are listed on the Art Loss Register, which trawls the art market for stolen and missing items.
The victim: 'A likeable rogue. But you shouldn't lend him money'
Nick Chrimes, 61, a writer from Essex, was one of the small investors stung by the collapse of Polly Peck – he lost an investment that was once worth £15,000. More than 20 years later he is philosophical
"I'm in favour of Michael Mates' view. Don't let the buggers get you down."
Following the collapse of the company, creditors secured just a couple of pennies in the pound while shareholders lost everything. But Mr Chrimes has some sympathy for Asil Nadir, a man he describes as a "likeable rogue who you shouldn't have lent any money to. He is certainly not all bad. He's no one's fool. I don't see why else he would land himself voluntarily with a prison sentence when in his 70s."
He added: "There are worse fates than being confined to Turkey and Northern Cyprus when you're rich."