Out of Cyprus: Fugitive tycoon parties for his right to flight

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The Independent Online
LEFKOSA - As a coming-out party, it had to be scored as a local success. Paraded for all to see was the fact that most Turkish Cypriots would accept an invitation from Asil Nadir and, by implication, welcome the supposedly bankrupt businessman's flight from the British judicial system to his small and isolated island community.

Mr Nadir selected the venue for his first soiree with care. The sleek offices of his newspaper Kibris underlined both a source of his power and his claim to popularity: a man who, whatever the source of his wealth, created nearly as many jobs on the island as the government. Turkish Cyprus' best-selling newspaper is Mr Nadir's main cheerleader, where editorialists opine on his role as a modern Robin Hood. 'Despite all the risks of investing (in North Cyprus), my only aim was to raise the prosperity of my people,' Mr Nadir wrote in a front-page editorial to honour the pounds 7m plant's fifth anniversary.

The party was the first time Mr Nadir has been on show in the two months since his hasty arrival in May, apart from a few uncomfortable news conferences early on. He welcomed about 200 guests for drinks and canapes on the cobbled forecourt of the building amid the new concrete developments straddling a highway north of Lefkosa, the Turkish name for Nicosia, the divided capital. Shaking hands, kissing cheeks and embracing heartily, Mr Nadir did not always look like a man at peace with himself. But there was a similar restlessness even when he ran Polly Peck International Plc, and a deep suntan showed that he has not been pining away. Equally bronzed and even more at ease was Abide Gonultas, Mr Nadir's companion, circulating among members of the elite, including his family, journalists, trade unionists, printshop workers, Turkish diplomats and several of the island's political leaders.

Everybody relished gossip about the political significance of who did and who did not join the crowd on a warm evening on the central Cyprus plain, overlooked by the Kyrenia mountains and the huge Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags etched out in white stones upon them to taunt the Greek Cypriots to the south.

The Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, did not come, pleading a prior engagement, and neither did the main opposition leader. Ever wary of the need to preserve his international image, Mr Denktash has yet to meet Mr Nadir in public since his return, although he has rejected British pleas to extradite him. President Denktash's political rival, Dervis Eroglu, the hardline Prime Minister of the self-declared Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, did attend. Mr Eroglu's administration shares Mr Nadir's renegade status and Western diplomats avoid him as well. But even he appeared shy of being seen in too close an embrace with the fugitive.

A photograph could not, however, be avoided. Soon guests were invited to watch the presses of Kibris running with a front-page photograph of Mr Nadir together with an embarrassed- looking Mr Eroglu and a beaming Turkish ex-minister.

Perhaps not the stuff of which rehabilitations are made. But Mr Nadir should not be underestimated. Few doubted that a newspaper about to be launched by Mr Nadir would be dedicated to backing Mr Eroglu in elections due in North Cyprus. Mr Nadir's support for Mr Eroglu's National Unity Party was largely responsible for its victory in the controversial 1990 elections. Such links make it seem unlikely that Mr Eroglu is doing Mr Nadir any disservice, as his government apparently sequesters former Polly Peck assets for some pounds 3m of tax debts. A scheme to foil Polly Peck administrators seems more possible.

Mr Nadir could also be seen in heavy, arm-linked talks with leaders of the new pro-Denktash Democrat Party. Mr Denktash, 69, has vowed not to seek re-election when his term ends in 1995. Before his fall from grace, Mr Nadir obtained the university degree needed to run for president of north Cyprus. Inability to move elsewhere may yet allow him to fulfil a constitutional five-year residence requirement. Mr Nadir is not shy of political turns of phrase. 'I represent the 200,000 people of North Cyprus,' he maintained before heading off for an opulent dinner at the Jasmine Court Hotel, a pleasant Mediterranean resort which Polly Peck shareholders may be interested to hear is fully booked and expanding.

Few Turkish Cypriots voice any objection to all this. Only the coming election campaign will show whether they will take fright at Mr Nadir's growing influence on the island or the kind of impact he managed to make on the British political scene.