The Conservative Party will be pursued by the creditors of Polly Peck International for the return of £440,000 donated by Asil Nadir before his companies collapsed, The Independent has learnt.
Administrators have contacted the Tories to ask for repayment, as they hunt for the £374m sought by claimants to the missing millions. Kevin Hellard, a partner at Grant Thornton and a trustee in the bankruptcy of Nadir, said yesterday: "The Conservative Party has previously stated that it would repay the funds donated by Mr Nadir in the event that he is found guilty and we confirm that we have requested the repayment of those funds."
But the Tories say they will not hand over the money because it was accepted in "good faith" from what was then considered a "leading British company".
Sir John Major had promised that his party would return donations if the money was "dishonestly obtained and dishonestly donated". Sir Norman Fowler told the House of Commons in June 1993: "Let me make this clear: we will return the money if it was stolen."
Nadir was one of the party's biggest donors at the time of Margaret Thatcher's government and was a regular visitor to Downing Street. When his Rolex watch was taken by bailiffs after the collapse of his companies, Michael Mates, then the Northern Ireland Minister, sent him a replacement watch inscribed in Latin, which translated as "Don't let the buggers get you down."
Mr Mates' links to Nadir eventually forced him to quit as a minister – although the former MP will stand as a candidate for police and crime commissioner in Hampshire this year.
The Liberal Democrats have also been hounded after declining to pay back £2.4m from Michael Brown, who was later convicted of fraud after ripping off wealthy clients while posing as a well-connected bond dealer. The Electoral Commission cleared the party of wrongdoing in 2009 and said it could keep the money.
A spokesman for the Tory party said yesterday it would "study the court's judgement; however, the Conservative Party has no record of having received donations from Asil Nadir. Donations were received from Polly Peck companies more than 22 years ago."