Van Hoogstraten arrested on cash and porn charges

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The Independent Online

The infamous property tycoon Nicholas van Hoogstraten has been arrested by Zimbabwean police, who suspect him of violating the country's currency exchange rules and possessing pornography.

Police detained Van Hoogstraten, 63, last Thursday night and charged him with levying rents on properties he owns in foreign currency as well as illegally dealing in foreign currency. He is also expected to face charges in connection with home-made pornography featuring him and a young Zimbabwean woman.

Under Zimbabwean law, it is illegal to pay foreign currency for local goods and services.

Van Hoogstraten, who owns more than 200 properties in Harare and Bulawayo, was found with 20 billion Zimbabwe dollars (£335,883 at official exchange rates), 92,880 South African rands, 180 Botswana pula, US$37,586 and £190 during the raid, according to the state-run Herald newspaper.

Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena said police carried out the raid after they were tipped off by an informant who told them Van Hoogstraten demanded rents in hard currency and asked for six months' payment in advance. He said: "The police informant had been asked to pay in the region of US$8,000."

Zimbabwe has faced serious shortages of its own currency since October.

The property tycoon has spoken previously of his support – which includes a $10m loan – for President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party.

Van Hoogstraten is no stranger to controversy. In 2002, a British court convicted him of manslaughter and sentenced him to 10 years in jail after his business associate, Mohammed Raja, was shot and killed by two hired hitmen.

He appealed against the conviction, which was overturned in 2003 by the Court of Appeal, but a civil court ruled against him in 2005 and awarded the murdered businessman's family £6m in damages.

Giovanni di Stefano, a lawyer who was part of the team who helped to overturn the manslaughter conviction, said it was unlikely he would face a prison sentence if found guilty of the currency violations.

Van Hoogstraten made much of his early fortune as a landlord, buying his first homes in London while still in his teens, but by the 1980s his empire had grown to more than 2,000 properties.

In 1968 he was sentenced to four years in prison after hiring people to fire-bomb the home of a Jewish cleric who, he claimed, owed him money, earning him the tag "emissary of Beelzebub" by the trial judge.

He once suggested the pursuit of wealth was so as "to separate oneself from the riff-raff", and nowhere was this more true than with his epic, unfinished, mansion in East Sussex, which became the subject of a dispute with the Ramblers' Association over a right of way across his land.

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