Asil Nadir: still guilty, then, after all these years | Hugh Muir
The disgraced Polly Peck tycoon expected a more sympathetic hearing. But demands for justice have only grown stronger
Though one should never feel sympathy for criminals, for at root, their trade is misery, it is easy to view the fall of Asil Nadir and the end of his incredible story with a pang of nostalgia. The people who plunder large corporations these days seem to be a charmless, hachet-faced lot. Asil Nadir always seemed a little different – and then there was the bizarre troupe of characters that gravitated towards him.
Think first of all of those who lost money to help him live the high life, because there is no such thing as a victimless crime, and Nadir siphoned millions from institutions and blameless individuals to pay off his debts.
But think then about the way it all played out. This was crime as soap opera.
Think of Peter Dimond, the stick-thin, very English character, whose belief in Nadir was such that he willingly turned his life on its head by agreeing to fly the tycoon out of the country to Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus – out of the reach of the British authorities – in 1993. He was jailed for two years in 1999. Luckily for him, that sentence was overturned when his lawyers established that – technically – Nadir was not on bail when he left the country. He spent many years in exile at one of Nadir’s hotels. He never doubted his friend’s integrity, he told reporters. Nadir just needed time to prepare his defence. Dimond was like a supporting character in a military drama starring Kenneth More.
Think of Elizabeth Forsyth, the home counties grandmother with the fur and the jewels and the cut-glass accent. The former head of Nadir’s personal management company, she was jailed for five years in 1996 for allegedly handling stolen money and spent 10 months in jail but overturned the verdict the following year and was awarded more than £1 million in damages. Warm, persuasive, with the mannerisms of a Conservative party chair from Surrey, she refused to entertain any suggestion of wrongdoing on Nadir’s part. She even wrote a labour-of-love book on the crimes done to him: Who Killed Polly Peck?
Think too of Michael Mates, the former Tory Northern Ireland minister, now a Tory candidate for crime commissioner in Hampshire. He was highly respected but once Nadir fled Britain he suffered a blow from which his career never recovered. “Don’t let the buggers get you down” was the message inscribed onto the back of a watch he sent to Nadir, a Tory donor to the tune of £500,000. Disclosure of that fact proved lethal, as did the leaking of a letter he sent to the attorney general complaining about how Nadir had been treated.
And then of course there was the man himself, whose business and political connections in northern Cyprus allowed him to resume his life there with all the pomp of a returning prince. He owned hotels, factories, and a newspaper, and when he flew back there, he took the world’s press with him. Good for him, good for the local economy. Most of the British journalists sent to find him ended up staying in his hotels like the Jasmine Court. Good for his employees; who brought into the courtyard a goat to be slaughtered and eaten to celebrate his homecoming. Good for Fleet Street. The Sun and the Star, seeing headlines at every turn, accosted the goat’s owner with local currency and competed to buy it as a mascot for their readers.
It was exhilarating for everyone, but it couldn’t last. After four days being chased by the British journalists, Nadir – noting that the thrill had waned for them and for him – sought them out at the bar and bought them drinks.
They would soon be gone; to be followed eventually by the politicians who made life on the island tolerable for him. His options for travel were limited, as were his abilities to trade and to obtain first-class medical treatment for heart and kidney ailments. He returned to Britain in 2010, having established that he would get bail and ebulliently citing his “burning sense of injustice”. Those grievances will burn deeper now, a feeling that will be shared by all of the characters in the Nadir soap opera. Still, they have their memories.
And they have their freedom, but not the leading player. He will spend long years in jail, and as he begins that new life he may reflect on a big miscalculation. Why did he return when he did? Well there was less political cover in northern Cyprus, and in a Turkey keen to recast itself as respecting enough of the international community to join the European Union.
In Britain too, there was a political dimension. “I’m hoping to get a fair trial, if this matter goes to trial, obviously,” he said boarding the plane for London. ”That was not the case in the past.” It was, he said, the “right environment” to challenge the charges levelled against him. A new government might not feel bound to follow the same hard line as governments before.
But that was a mistake, proof perhaps that time away from Britain had dulled his perception. For whole the government changed, so too had the public’s mood towards rich businessmen who live high on the hog on money derived from taxpayers and shareholders. Even the charming ones get a ducking.
At the end of the day, his problem was not the government or the law officers. It was, in fact, a jury of our peers; weighing up the evidence and reflecting with their verdicts the mood of Britain 2012.