Illegal republic offers ideal sanctuary: The UN maintains that Nadir's bolt-hole does not exist. Tim Kelsey reports

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The Independent Online
ASIL NADIR could scarcely have chosen a better place to hide than northern Cyprus. The people adore him. It is cheap, beautiful; and he has extensive properties and business interests to sustain him there for a long time to come. But most attractive is that it is illegal. According to the United Nations, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus does not exist. No international writ can touch him. Only Turkey has exchanged ambassadors with the tiny country which it brought into being after invading the island in 1974.

The Turks sent in troops at the request of the local Turkish community to stop Greek Cypriot plans to unite the island with Greece and to end persecution of the Turkish community. There are still about 20,000 Turkish soldiers stationed in the mountains of northern Cyprus. The Greeks and Turks of the island are still far from negotiating a settlement, and for nearly two decades UN soldiers have been keeping the peace along the green line which divides Cyprus.

Although Turkish Cyprus has a government, a parliament, and an airline, it is, in effect, a colony of Turkey. In order to fly there, you have to stop in Istanbul to change aircraft. Without aid from Turkey, the economy of northern Cyprus would collapse.

The one man who has tried to give northern Cyprus the confidence and credibility to stand on its own is Asil Nadir, and the Turkish Cypriots love him for it. He has campaigned for formal recognition of the republic and has invested millions in local businesses. After the intervention of 1974 Nadir was asked by the Turkish government to help revive the economy of the north.

He did not look back. And most of his investments are still intact today, despite all the legal proceedings in London. The Turkish Cypriots have loyally protected his assets from the British courts. But then the British courts, as the British police chasing him are finding, had a problem. Because the republic does not exist, there was no one for them to talk to, and no means of serving a writ.

Nadir has numerous houses along the northern coast of the Island, among the carob trees and bougainvillea. It is a good time of year in Cyprus - too early for the oppressive and humid heat of high summer but past the cold of a late winter. The tourists have not yet started to arrive on the northern part of the island, but even when they do, there are not many of them, far fewer than the thousands who clog up the Greek south of the island every summer.

Nadir used to have a yacht moored at Girne, the Turkish for Kyrenia, within sight of one of the two hotels he owns on the island, and walking distance from the string of famous fish restaurants that line the harbour. Kyrenia may be the most beautiful seaside town in the Mediterranean (Lawrence Durrell thought it was) but the political history of northern Cyprus means that it remains, like the rest of the island, a wonderfully uncrowded secret. Nadir's business interests are intact: the factory in Famagusta producing cardboard still functions, and so do his fruit orchards.

If commerce bores him, he may chose to go into politics. Rumours have done the rounds in the bars of Lefkose (the Turkish side of Nicosia) for years that he was going to challenge for the presidency of the republic. He has the friends - a significant proportion of the electorate owe, in one way or another, their livelihood to him - and the influence. He owns the island's largest and most modern printing house on the outskirts of Lefkose. A lot of the locals believe that the fall of Nadir, and what they see as his subsequent persecution, is just a reflection of prejudice against them and the republic.

Northern Cyprus is a very small place - about 160,000 inhabitants. Many of these are mainland Turkish settlers. The old Turkish Cypriots whose history on the Island goes back many generations make up a close, insular and intensely nationalistic community. Nadir, the most powerful of them all, has made sure that his friends have been well rewarded for their help. These rewards are impressive by the standards of northern Cyprus where the average annual income is pounds 1,200. One of his lieutenants drives a luxury BMW and lives in a converted farmhouse just outside Kyrenia.

Nadir may have arrived with very little in his wallet but he is believed to have bank accounts on which he can draw on the island. And friends will ensure that he does not go hungry. But northern Cyrpus is also cheap. Turks from the mainland come each weekend with empty suitcases and stuff them full of drink, cigarettes and electrical goods which are imported with very low tariffs charged. Popular items include cheap television sets, like Nadir's Vestel sets. It is the cheap cost of living and the beauty of the place that have drawn so many British exiles to the island. There is a faintly colonial atmosphere in some of the bars in Kyrenia with the Brits in shorts and brogues. Nadir, as much a Briton as a Cypriot, will be at home.

(Photograph omitted)