In the Media

Why did Asil Nadir return for trial?

PUBLISHED August 22, 2012

As Asil Nadir fought the battle of his life at the Old Bailey, the question on everyone's lips was: "Why did he come back?"

And the unspoken thought which went through many a mind was: "Will he make off again?"

For despite sureties, curfews and an electronic tag, the once powerful tycoon still had the cunning of a fox and a substantial family fortune at his disposal.

He slipped out of Britain in May 1993 on a private plane that took him to France and then a jet to Northern Cyprus, which had no extradition treaty with the UK.

Protesting his innocence and blaming the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for his downfall, even Nadir could not have imagined it would be 17 years before his return.

In the meantime, he lived comfortably in the Turkish-controlled section of the Mediterranean island, married a new wife 43 years younger than him and built up a media business.

It was not until a judge granted him conditional bail that Nadir was flown in and attended court to continue where he had left off.

For Nadir could not leave behind his obsession with the "injustice" he had suffered.

He wanted revenge on the SFO and to make it pay for the spectacular crash of his Polly Peck International empire.

Its shares went into free fall, dropping £160 million in a day after investigators raided Nadir's South Audley Management (SAM) company in 1990 amid rumours of insider dealing.

It was a similar obsession which drove the SFO's Lorna Harris, backed up by detectives, to nail Nadir all those years ago.

The two ageing adversaries faced each other in court last year for a pre-trial hearing in which the judge was asked to throw the case out.

Nadir accused Mrs Harris of a "Watergate-style cover-up" during the investigation. Mrs Harris protested at being called dishonest.

The court heard that some 40 pages of legally-privileged papers had been mistakenly copied and circulated by police sifting through material seized from SAM.

Mrs Harris, who has now retired, later discovered the error but did not disclose the extent of it to Nadir's solicitors despite their complaints.

And the Attorney General unwittingly misled Parliament when Mrs Harris omitted to mention that documents had been copied and circulated to SFO investigators in a briefing document.

Mr Justice Holroyde said he did not think her actions had been intended to disadvantage the defence.

But he did not believe Mrs Harris, a lawyer, when she told the court she did not think the solicitors would have wanted to know.

He said: "This failure to be open and frank has proved to be her Achilles heel. This caused her to fall from her high standard.

"I cannot and I do not condone her conduct. On the contrary, I condemn it."

He refused to throw the case out, but it was part of year-long on-off legal hearings.

Each sitting ended with the judge carefully reminding Nadir that he was on bail and must report to a police station on days the court was not sitting.

Of all his bail conditions, Nadir appeared to have found his electronic tag most worrying.

Any hopes that the judge would remove it after a misunderstanding which led to his arrest a couple of months after his return were soon dashed.

Nadir was questioned by police for four hours after security company Serco said it could get no reply after Nadir's midnight curfew.

Nadir, who said he had been home all the time, said he found the experience distressing.

But the judge said: "It does not seem to me to be a good enough reason to vary the conditions."

As the trial approached in January, Nadir seemed less enthusiastic about finally having his day in court.

Just two days before the jury selection process was due to start, Nadir made an 11th-hour attempt to avoid trial.

The judge was forced to put the process off a week while Nadir's health was investigated.

A letter was produced in court saying Nadir had been feeling unwell and undergone tests on his heart.

These included an MRI body scan which involved his electronic tag being removed.

A letter from a Harley Street consultant said the stress of the trial could have consequences for his health - and could even lead to death.

Nadir flew to Turkey in 2002 after collapsing in Cyprus. He underwent surgery to clear an artery and implant a mesh support for it, the court heard.

A doctor was instructed to examine the former tycoon for the prosecution and the judge sat late the following week to hear from both medical men.

But after close questioning from Mr Justice Holroyde, Nadir's man agreed he could undergo a trial if he was given regular breaks.

The prosecution consultant also told the judge Nadir might have been feeling unwell because he had not been taking his blood pressure reducing medication regularly.

When the health condition was raised, the prosecution said there was "a suspicion of manipulation".

It also emerged that Nadir asked for his bail to be varied on New Year's Eve so he could stay out until 4am at a hotel.

The judge agreed he could extend his curfew until 2am, but Nadir decided to see the New Year in at home instead.