The last that Asil Nadir saw of England was the glinting village lights of Compton Abbas, Dorset, out of the small window of his Piper aircraft, as he fled the country in the middle of the night 17 years ago.
Since then the 69-year-old former multimillionaire businessman has lived his life as a well-heeled fugitive. Unable to travel from his home in the Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus for fear of being deported to Britain, he has noisily protested from afar his innocence of charges of stealing millions from investors in his company Polly Peck.
But yesterday, in a carefully choreographed legal move, the way was finally cleared for Mr Nadir to return to Britain within the next few weeks to face trial. In a special hearing at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Bean agreed to a request from Mr Nadir's lawyers to grant him bail on condition he return to the UK by 3 September to face 66 charges of the theft of £34m.
"I think it is desirable that the legal limbo as to Mr Nadir's bail status should be brought to an end and he should be given the opportunity to submit to the jurisdiction of this court by attending in person," the judge said.
Under the bail conditions, Mr Nadir will have to deposit £250,000 with the court as a security before returning, submit to electronic tagging, surrender his travel documents and attend court on 3 September. Mr Nadir will also have to apply for a British passport before he can travel.
The court's decision is a pivotal moment in a political and legal saga which has lasted for more than 20 years.
Polly Peck, the company the Mr Nadir built up from scratch, dealt in everything from fruit to fashion and was one of the biggest City success stories of the 1980s, delivering returns to shareholders of up to 1,000 times their original investment.
The former rag salesman was 39th on the Sunday Times Rich List, had luxury properties in London and the country, an island in the Aegean Sea and a dozen racehorses. Mr Nadir was also a major Tory party donor, a frequent guest at Downing Street, and rubbed shoulders with the royal family.
But in 1990 a bankruptcy petition was lodged against Mr Nadir by his own stockbrokers demanding payment for £3.6m. The Serious fraud Office raided his management company's offices and Polly Peck shares crashed before trading was suspended. In one day, £160m was wiped off the company's value, sparking its collapse. Mr Nadir was arrested and charged with theft and false accounting.
The Serious Fraud Office alleged that tens of millions of pounds were transferred out of Polly Peck and into secret accounts in northern Cyprus and elsewhere. With Polly Peck liabilities of £1.3bn, creditors were eventually paid just 2.9p in the pound – while shareholders got nothing.
And then, while on bail Mr Nadir disappeared, taking off in the light aircraft from a Dorset airfield in May 1993.
A month later his friend, the then Northern Ireland minister Michael Mates, was forced to resign after it emerged that he had given Mr Nadir the gift of a watch inscribed "Don't let the buggers get you down" after Mr Nadir's own, much more expensive timepiece, was seized by bailiffs.
But Mr Nadir has always maintained his innocence.
While in Cyprus he commissioned reports by two firms of accountants which conclude that the allegedly illegal transfers from Polly Peck in London to subsidiaries in northern Cyprus were no such thing and that the money involved was accounted for.
In addition, he says, forensic document examiners have checked the books and authorised them as contemporaneous records. Subsequently, Mr Nadir has employed accountants to detail every transfer of money from London to northern Cyprus.
In an interview earlier this month Mr Nadir said any accusation that he stole from Polly Peck, which he regarded as his company, did not make sense.
"For a man with so much wealth, why would I risk everything? I was the chairman, the chief executive, but I was also the biggest shareholder – I was close to 30 per cent," he said.
"Why would a man be tempted to take away from the company in which he is the biggest shareholder and, if something went wrong, he would be the biggest loser? There is no motive."
Mr Nadir, who has subsequently built up a new business in North Cyprus, said it was worth facing facing the risk of prison for the sake of clearing his name.
"I am happy, but knowing the injustice that was practised on me, I want to get the authorities to rectify it. Time doesn't cure the pain. In order to find peace and solace within me I have to continue to search every avenue within legality to bring this matter to a conclusion in the manner that it deserves."
The fall of Polly Peck
Serious Fraud Office raids Polly Peck and South Audley Management, which ran Nadir family trusts; Asil Nadir arrested on theft and false accounting charges. Polly Peck, once worth £1.7bn, collapses. Shareholders lose everything
Mr Nadir declared bankrupt as more charges are laid against him; bailiffs seize his home and possessions
Police investigate a possible bribery plot by Mr Nadir, but an inquiry finds that no such plot existed
Mr Nadir flies to France, then northern Cyprus. It emerges that Conservative minister Michael Mates gave Mr Nadir a watch engraved: "Don't let the buggers get you down"
Mr Mates resigns from government over his relationship with Mr Nadir. However, he calls for an urgent, independent inquiry into the SFO's conduct of the Nadir case
Elizabeth Forsyth, a close aide to Mr Nadir, is cleared on appeal of laundering £400,000 of Polly Peck money
The High Court insists that Mr Nadir must return to Britain if he wants legal redress
The firm Stoy Hayward is fined by the accountancy watchdog for failures in auditing Polly Peck's books
A judge agrees to grant Mr Nadir bail if he returns to the UK to face trialReuse content