Chris Blackhurst: How the Sultan of Berkeley Square fell off his throne

 

Share
Related Topics

There was a period when the City was transfixed by Asil Nadir. He was the poster boy of the Thatcher generation, whose rise followed her own and seemingly stood for the same values of hard work and enterprise.

In less than 10 years, from 1982, he built a business empire – turning Polly Peck from a company with a stock market value of just £300,000 to one of £1.7 billion. Investors clamoured to grab a part of his success – the Square Mile was littered with tales of Polly Peck shareholders who had become multi-millionaires on the back of a punt of a few thousand pounds.

He was a huge figure, so big that if he had still been operating in London decades later he would have given Alan Sugar a run for his money as the frontman for The Apprentice. He was that large: employing tens of thousands of people worldwide, living in a house in Belgravia and a stately home in Leicestershire, flying everywhere by private jet (this in the days when such things were relative rarities), and owning racehorses.

There was something exotic about him: his office in Mayfair earned him the nickname of the Sultan of Berkeley Square (before that, I remember meeting him on the eastern edge of the City, where Polly Peck occupied an imposing office block).

Looking back, there were clues as to what was to come. He appeared to have the gift of alchemy, turning mundane activities into FTSE gold. His first, serious venture was Uni-Pac, a company that made corrugated cardboard boxes to hold fruit from his native Cyprus. You would not have thought it could produce much in the way of profits: for Nadir it was a cash cow, generating millions a year.

He did it again with bottled water and shirts, each time growing the firm to stellar proportions. With Polly Peck, his main holding vehicle, he created a vast conglomerate to match that of another Thatcher hero, Lord Hanson. TVs, video recorders, air-conditioning units, microwaves, washing machines, fresh fruit and vegetables – you name it, Nadir was into it.

Yet when asked how, exactly, he had a skill that others, also in the same line of ordinariness, lacked, he was vague. There is a City adage that if something is too good to be true it usually is. Yet for all that apparent wisdom, the City also has a habit of not wishing to explore the detail, of basking in a constantly rising share price rather than demanding the answers to awkward questions.

Like the late Robert Maxwell, Nadir’s organisation was built on sand, and like the former newspaper tycoon, he was moving cash around his empire to give the illusion of financial health.

At the same time, assets were being siphoned off to Northern Cyprus. When the pressure grew too much, after Polly Peck duly collapsed and those shareholders who remained and the employees lost everything, and following the bringing of charges against him for false accounting and theft, that was also where he went.

Why do I think he came back? Because he thought he could get away with it. He’d done it before and he calculated that memories were short. On this occasion, for once, his confidence in his own ability to hoodwink was misplaced.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little