Pilots could face charges over flight

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PILOTS or private aircraft operators who helped Asil Nadir to flee Britain could face prosecution, the Serious Fraud Office said yesterday.

A spokesman for Detective Superintendent Jim Davies, who is leading the team of detectives investigating Nadir's flight, said charges could be brought against pilots or private jet operators if it could be shown that they knew Nadir intended to abscond. Absconding - failing to appear at a scheduled court hearing - is a criminal offence.

It emerged yesterday that the airfield at Compton Abbas, Dorset, from which Nadir is believed to have made his escape, did not receive orders to stop him. Police issued an all-ports warning on Sunday after the Serious Fraud Office received an anonymous telephone tip-off that he was about to flee.

A spokesman at the privately- owned training airfield refused to confirm whether or not Nadir was aboard a Piper light aircraft which left for France on Monday. 'We didn't get any sort of security alert,' he added.

One source close to Polly Peck's administrators said: 'Why this airfield should not have been alerted seems an extraordinary oversight.' However, the Serious Fraud Office said warnings only covered major airfields.

Nadir is thought to have transferred from the Piper to a Cessna Citation executive jet at Beauvais, France. The Cessna had left Britain from a British Aerospace airfield in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, and flown to Beauvais via Brittany. He is believed to have then flown via Vienna and Istanbul to Ercan airport in Turkish Cyprus.

One pilot who knows Compton Abbas said: 'If he left from here, it was an ideally secretive place.' The airfield has a muddy 800-metre runway - enough for a small jet to take off - but it is rarely used for passenger flights. The Cessna, identified as registered N11HJ, is managed by Michael Hamlin Jets at Hatfield. The jet took off on Monday after filing a flight plan for France, Hatfield authorities said. Lawyers said yesterday that if Nadir had boarded the Cessna in France, Michael Hamlin Jets could not be prosecuted because any offence would not have taken place in Britain. The Piper operator could be prosecuted.

Serious Fraud Office detectives refused to confirm reports that Nadir had left from Dorset. 'There have been lots of rumours and red herrings,' a spokesman said. 'We hope to make a full statement next week when we have all the facts.'

Nadir's flight highlights the ease with which passengers can leave Britain, bypassing immigration checks. A flight to Cyprus on a Lear jet can be arranged at an hour's notice and costs around pounds 10,000.

One private jet operator said: 'If someone really wants to leave and has the money, he can go anywhere. If he has a passport it is straightforward. If he does not, he can fly to another EC country because, under the new EC rules, he would not have to show his passport on departure or arrival . . .'

The Turkish government has been given until Monday to tell the Government if it is prepared to help return Nadir to Britain.