Millionaire developer arrested over murder

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The Independent Online

Nicholas Van Hoogstraten, the millionaire property developer and outspoken scourge of the nation's ramblers, was arrested yesterday in connection with the murder of a former business associate.

Mr van Hoogstraten was held at his Courtlands Hotel in Hove, East Sussex, by officers from the Metropolitan Police's Serious Crime Group investigating the shooting of Mohammed Raja in July 1999.

Mr Raja died after being shot in the head and stomach at his home in Sutton, south London, by two heavily disguised men. A man from Brighton, David Croke, 58, was charged with murder in February and is due to stand trial later this year.

The dead man, formerly a notorious landlord in Brighton, had previous business dealings with Mr van Hoogstraten but was suing him over property ownership at the time of the shooting. Mr Raja had been convicted more than 100 times for breaching housing regulations and letting properties that were unfit for habitation. He was declared bankrupt in 1995.

In the immediate aftermath of the killing, Mr Raja's son, Amjad, said: "He was so humble and honest about his business and it really is beyond belief."

Mr van Hoogstraten, 56, was arrested yesterday afternoon and taken to a south London police station where he was being questioned.

Mr van Hoogstraten, the son of a shipping agent, is worth an estimated £200m. He joined the navy at 16 and launched his business career with savings and the sale of his stamp collection. He ploughed his money into cheap property. He became rich on global mining interests and property with homes in Britain, America, France, the West Indies and Zimbabwe. His four main properties in Zimbabwe have been invaded by squatters focusing on white-owned farm holdings.

His "occupational therapy" has been building a £30m mansion called Hamilton Palace at his High Cross Estate near Uckfield, East Sussex. It is meant to house his art collection and is due to have his mausoleum. It would be one of the most expensive and largest country homes to be built in Britain in the past 100 years.

The project, conceived 15 years ago when Mr van Hoogstraten sketched a plan on a napkin, has been dogged by disputes over payments with builders ­ who claimed the copper-domed building would not be completed before he died at the present rate of progress ­ and with ramblers over rights of way.

Mr van Hoogstraten blocked paths with barbed wire and a barn during a 10-year campaign to keep walkers out of the area near Lewes in the East Sussex Weald. He has claimed he did not want "riff raff" on his land and has described ramblers as the "scum of the earth" and the "great unwashed". The ramblers won the right to roam over a section of his land after a prolonged campaign.

He has earned a reputation for tough practices and strong opinions. He has described his tenants as "filth" and people who live in council houses as "worthless and lazy".