Blast from the past as Nadir returns

 
Steve Dinneen
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A TORY Prime Minister is slashing the budget, Iron Maiden are top of the album chart and now exiled tycoon Asil Nadir is back in the UK. It’s like the 1980s never ended.

Nadir, 69, touched down to a media scrum yesterday, accompanied by his glamorous 26-year-old wife, Nur. Tanned, wearing a double breasted suit, only his thinning hair and hunched gait belied his 17-year hiatus. As he awaits court proceedings in September he will be living in a £20,000-a-month Mayfair flat. It seems he has lost none of his love for the finer things in life.

In many ways, Nadir’s tale is a perfect reflection of the enterprise, glamour and excess of the 1980s. During his heyday he was blessed with a Midas touch. He took the reins at an all but unheard of textiles firm called Polly Peck, a small fashion house that had shuffled along since 1940 without ever causing a stir. Within five years it was a FTSE 100 company, a vast conglomerate, selling everything from mineral water to electronics, fashion to fruit.

By 1983, its stock had rocketed to a staggering £35 a share. Some investors received returns of more than a thousand times their initial outlay.

Nadir became a public figure, donating £500,000 to the Tory party, befriending top politicians and brushing shoulders with royals.

But even then, the company’s fortunes were sometimes rocky. Its share price crashed when vital tax breaks were withdrawn by the Turkish government, taking it years to recover.

By 1990 it had built back up to 450p a share, valuing the firm at almost £2bn. But Nadir was still convinced his empire was undervalued and he made an ill-fated attempt to take it private, before unceremoniously ditching the plans just a month later.

Then the tycoon reached his own, very personal, nadir.

Later that year the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) stepped in after being tipped off about alleged money transfers to Northern Cyprus. The company lost practically its entire value overnight.

Officers discovered millions pounds worth of the firm’s assets had been transferred into Nadir’s name, and found dozens of unexplained transactions, which Nadir claimed were personal banking services for Turkish and Northern Cypriot businessmen.

Nadir was bankrupt and the firm was placed in administration, while the SFO began the three-year process of trawling through the labyrinthine company reports.

Rumours spread like wildfire about the firm and it’s controversial chief executive. Tales abounded that Nadir kept 14 “girlfriends” on the company books as special consultants.

The Midas touch became the kiss of death as others were drawn into the fray. Close friend Michael Mates, the Northern Ireland secretary, who believed Nadir was being set-up by MI6, gave him a watch engraved: “Don’t let the buggers get you down”. Nadir was placed on bail worth £3.5m, with the SFO convinced they could stand up a £34m fraud case against him, claiming he had stolen from shareholders. But when the bail elapsed in 1993, he made his infamous bunk to his homeland, where he remained a fugitive for 17 years.

It emerged during a court hearing in July this year that Nadir was never, legally speaking, on the run because technically bail had never been granted in the first place.

Now, back in the UK his arrival will force the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to pick up where it left off almost a decade and a half ago. Fears are already growing in legal circles that it may prove near-but impossible to try Nadir on multiple fraud allegations given the time that has elapsed. Crucial documents are believed to have been lost and his lawyers are expected to stress the practical obstalces of undertaking a trial after so long.

TIME LINE | THE RISE AND FALL OF ASIL NADIR

May 1941
Born in Lefka, northern Cyprus.
1960s
After studying in Istanbul, moves to the UK to work in his father’s business.
1986
Wearwell, Nadir’s fashion business, floats on the London stock exchange for £12m.
1990
Stockbrokers demand Nadir pay up for trading in £3.6m worth of Polly Peck shares and file a bankruptcy petition.
1991
Polly Peck collapses with debts of £1.3bn, following a Serious Fraud Office probe.
1992
Nadir in a disputed hearing is set a £3.5m bail after being charged with 66 counts of false accounting and theft.
1993
Nadir flees to Cyprus two days before a hearing for a £34m fraud trial.
Late 1990s
Nadir runs a successful media company in Cyprus, defying calls to return to Britain.
1 July 2010
Nadir promises to return to the UK if the government guarantees he will not be kept in custody.
26 August 2010
Nadir returns to British soil after 17 years.
3 September 2010
Trial is scheduled to begin.