The Mates Affair: Letters say Nadir was the target of 'fishing expedition': Steve Boggan looks at the correspondence released by the Government yesterday in the wake of Michael Mates's resignation speech

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THE Serious Fraud Office engaged in a 'fishing expedition' to hook Asil Nadir, according to one of the documents released yesterday by Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General.

Among the myriad claims by Michael Mates, the former Northern Ireland minister, is the assertion that the SFO set out to ensnare the tycoon before it had received complaints that he had done anything wrong. To back up his claim, he wrote to Sir Nicholas on 20 September 1991 and included a copy of an aide memoire written by Peter Knight of Vizards, Nadir's solicitors, relating to a meeting he had with Michael Allcock, the head of the Inland Revenue's Special Office 2 on 21 September 1990. Nadir's offices at South Audley Management had been raided in a blaze of publicity two days before and Nadir had been interviewed by the SFO a day before. The officers, who had been trying to negotiate a tax settlement with Nadir, were anxious to deny claims that they had tipped off the SFO about Nadir's activities and the press about the South Audley raid. But the method they chose to convince Mr Knight was unusual.

According to Mr Knight's note of the meeting, he was shown a note of an August 1990 telephone conversation between Michael Chance, described as being number three at the SFO, and a Mr Parrott, an under-secretary at the Inland Revenue. He said Mr Parrott, who made the note, recalled that Mr Chance invited the Inland Revenue to a meeting to discuss Nadir and Polly Peck and to exchange information.

The note said Mr Parrott declined and told Mr Chance '. . . that he regarded the SFO as being on a fishing expedition led on by newspaper articles and that they had nothing to go on and were unlikely to find anything. Apparently, and according to Mr Parrott's notes, Mr Chance agreed that that was the case.'

Mr Knight said the officers described the raid and arrest of Nadir as 'a monumental disaster' which would result in the destruction of Polly Peck whatever the outcome. The revelation further clouds the role played by Mr Allcock. He is suspended pending a police inquiry, but his solicitor confirmed yesterday that he had tipped off the London Stock Exchange about Mr Nadir's activities.

Many of the other documents released simply confirm what is already known. A note of the 22 December 1992 meeting between Mr Mates and Sir Nicholas states: '(Mr Mates) thought that the intelligence services might be involved and that there might be strong political pressure for Mr Nadir to be convicted in order to provide a solution to the problem of Northern Cyprus.'

A note of a meeting after Nadir had fled said Mr Mates found the events 'appalling but not surprising' after police and the trustees in bankruptcy had taken away all his defence papers.