Polly Peck boss is found guilty of £29m theft but party indicates it will not return the £440,000 received from collapsed company
The Conservative party is under pressure to return a large donation from Asil Nadir’s business empire after the disgraced tycoon was convicted of the theft of nearly £29m.
Nadir, who will be sentenced on Thursday, could face 14 years in jail. A jury at the Old Bailey on Wednesday found him guilty on a further seven counts, to add to the three guilty verdicts they reached on Monday, concluding that he had plundered Polly Peck of £28.6m between 1987 and 1990 – the equivalent of £61.8m today.
The conclusion of his trial prompted immediate calls for the Tories to return £440,000 received from Nadir’s collapsed Polly Peck company – a demand the Tories indicated they would reject.
Nadir’s conviction will be seen as a rare triumph for the Serious Fraud Office which has pursued Nadir for 22 years.
The 71-year-old former financier was one of Britain’s most prominent businessmen in the 1980s, only to become one of the country’s most prominent fugitives from justice when he fled Britain for northern Cyprus in 1993.
Known as The Man from Del Monte after buying the fruit canning company, he returned to London two years ago to face allegations that he had stolen money from the conglomerate he controlled.
His wife, Nur, said outside court that Nadir would appeal against the verdict.
Nadir was cleared of three offences relating to more than £5m.
The case went to trial in January after Nadir was charged with plundering £34m from his Polly Peck International business empire. Prosecutors chose to bring evidence on 13 “sample” theft charges before a jury at the Old Bailey.
He was accused of transferring money to subsidiaries in Turkey and Northern Cyprus to pay his tax bill, buy gifts for himself and his family and also to buy shares in his own company in order to bolster the stock market price.
The case’s conclusion will cause some discomfort for David Cameron because former Tory grandees have promised to return money received from Polly Peck if it was proved to be stolen.
Labour MP Simon Danczuk called on the Tories to honour a promise made by former prime minister Sir John Major to return donations if the money was “dishonestly obtained and dishonestly donated”.
A Conservative spokesperson said the party would study the court’s judgment but declined to confirm that they would repay the cash if it was stolen property.
“The Conservative party has no record of having received donations from Asil Nadir. Donations were received from Polly Peck companies more than 22 years ago; these were accepted in good faith from what was then considered to be a leading British company,” the spokesman said.
Via his companies, Nadir is thought to have been one of the Conservatives’ biggest benefactors under Margaret Thatcher, a period in which party donations did not have to be publicly declared.
Accountants investigating Polly Peck found that a subsidiary had made a series of donations to the Conservative party between 1985 and 1990, seemingly without the knowledge of the company’s board or shareholders.
Touche Ross, the administrators of Polly Peck, wrote a letter – widely reported four years ago – to the party’s central office claiming that £365,000 came from money defrauded from the Polly Peck empire.
“It is the contention of the administrator that Mr Nadir is liable to repay the sums concerned as a result of his fraud and/or breach of fiduciary duty and/or malfeasance as a director,” the letter concluded. “I would urge you to return the donations to Polly Peck so that the creditors can at least obtain some small measure of compensation from this unfortunate affair.”
The nine donations – three from Polly Peck International, of £25,000 each, and six from a subsidiary, Unipac Packaging Ltd, of between £50,000 and £80,000 – were paid into the Conservative Industrial Fund, according to reports.
Nadir’s friend Michael Mates, a minister in the Major government, had to resign after it was discovered that he gave Nadir a watch inscribed: “Don’t let the buggers get you down.”
Prosecutors will ask the judge to impose a sentence in double figures to take into account the large amount stolen and Nadir’s 17 years in Cyrpus.
Each charge carries a maximum sentence of seven years but the judge could make some sentences consecutive when considering an overall figure.
Polly Peck began as a small fashion company but expanded into the food, leisure and electronics industries under Nadir’s ownership, growing into a £1.7bn business empire with more than 200 subsidiaries worldwide.
In 1989, Polly Peck bought fresh fruit firm Del Monte for $875m. By 1990, it was on the FTSE 100 index and was one of the Stock Exchange’s best performing companies but the share price collapsed after the SFO raided the company’s offices.
The company was left with debts of £550m. Creditors received a fraction of what they were owed and shareholders received nothing.
Nadir, 36th on the Sunday Times Rich List at one time, was arrested but was secretly flown out of Britain in a private plane in May 1993.
As Nadir was led away, his 28-year-old wife, Nur, stood on tiptoe to say goodbye to him in the dock.
Afterwards she said: “A guilty man does not come back to face justice of his own accord. My husband came back voluntarily. Polly Peck was his life. He wants justice for himself and for the tens of thousands of shareholders and employees. This unhappy affair is certainly not over yet.”
The Serious Fraud Office said it was “not yet clear” how much of the money Nadir stole from Polly Peck International can be recovered.
Clare Whitaker, case manager from the SFO, said a claim will be made for compensation, which it is hoped will be given to the administrators of PPI.
David Green, director of the SFO, said: “The conviction of Asil Nadir of theft on a grand scale from a public company 19 years after he fled the jurisdiction is a remarkable achievement.”