Relaxed Nadir basks in glow of approval: Hugh Pope, in Lapta, north Cyprus, finds few voices raised against the bankrupt head of the Polly Peck conglomerate

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S most famous bankrupt made a brief appearance yesterday in the small orange-growing village of Lapta, overlooking the Mediterranean.

Asil Nadir was sleek, smiling and assured that the support of his countrymen means he will not be exposed to any trial more intimidating than the British and Turkish reporters mobbing the old wooden door of his white-washed house.

'What do you mean, do we worry about Asil Nadir making us look like a country of outlaws? Like him, we were born and grew up here. We are proud of him. He showed what a Turk could achieve,' said Enis Inonu, a local driver who was sipping tea on a shop terrace overlooking the scene.

It was a view shared by all in Lapta and the small Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, a state of 160,000 people that declared independence 10 years ago but is only officially recognised by Turkey.

'There have been tough situations since 1958. What's another new trouble to us?', said Ismet Aygun, a former Turkish commando, who had settled in Lapta as a house painter after the war of 1974. Another soldier-settler agreed. 'So what if he took money? He will have helped a poor country,' he joked to general laughter all round.

Nadir seems safe. The only move by two local policemen yesterday was to ask his chauffeur to make a better job of parking the fugitive bankrupt's black Mercedes 560 SEL flush against his tree-lined garden wall.

Setting aside an ongoing feud in north Cypriot local politics, the Cabinet backed President Rauf Denktash's rejection of British demands that Nadir be returned to Britain to face charges of theft related to the collapse of his Polly Peck conglomerate with debts of pounds 1.3bn.

Many north Cypriots believed that Britain deliberately closed its eyes to Nadir's flight. They also sympathised with Nadir's allegations that he had been mistreated by British courts, victimised because he was not a member of the English club, and that his company was unfairly singled out for harassment. One of a half-dozen 'ancient Brit' pensioners in Lapta agreed - Mr Nadir's house was once owned by a British doctor - as do many mainland Turks.

'Bravo Asil Nadir' was one front-page headline in the Turkish newspaper, Hurriyet. 'The Great Escape' echoed another major daily, Sabah, which was the first newspaper to interview Nadir after his flight. His comments gave a taste of the story that Nadir - calm, cheerful and confident in yesterday's brief appearance - is expected to tell a news conference to be held today in one of the three hotels he owns in north Cyprus.

'My conscience is clear. What should one do when confronted with this moral torture. There was never such an investigation, even in Stalin's Russia. Have you met your sister in jail, as I did when I was first arrested? She was all alone and crying in the next-door cell,' Nadir told Sabah. 'Every time a judge said there was no case to be answered, officials charged me with something else. They changed the charges seven times. They put me through hell.'

Nadir's popularity in Cyprus is based on his international success and generous rates of pay at home. His businesses once employed 7,000 full- and part-time workers, but now his companies employ about 1,000.

His associates say that all is not right with his investments on this sunny island, one of the reasons prompting him to return. Rates of pay have had to be halved, payments have not been made for the citrus crops and his businesses went their own way during his enforced 30-month absence in London.

After his family, Nadir's managers were the first to visit him, bearing gifts of crates of oranges. They are not the only ones uneasy about the new state of affairs. Some north Cypriot commentators worry that a quarrel with Britain over Nadir's extradition poses a threat to products exported through Turkey and British tourists' charter flights into north Cyprus, and could also lead to a ban on travel to Heathrow airport, one of the only places that Turkish Cypriots can go on their country's passports.

'Now we're really in trouble' was the headline in the independent daily, Vatan.

President Denktash has also voiced his concerns, perhaps worried that he will lose British sympathy in his long negotiations for peace with Greek Cypriots. 'We have been left face to face with a very hard fait accompli,' he said. 'But we have no extradition agreement, we are not recognised. Even if a man is guilty, he cannot be handed over.'

(Photograph omitted)