22 Aug 2012

Asil Nadir – the smiling face of a fraudster

As Asil Nadir is convicted of multi-million pound fraud, Channel 4 News looks at the downfall of a glamorous tycoon once feted by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party.

Journalists tracked Nadir to his Northern Cyprus mansion in 1993 (pic: Getty)

With a background in the rag trade, Cyprus-born Asil Nadir shot to prominence in the 1970s when he bought a small textile company called Polly Peck.

Resourceful and making full use of Margaret Thatcher’s support to entrepreneurs in the eighties boom, the firm led by the ebullient Turkish Cypriot diversified into fruit packing and electronics.

Floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1989, the firm was worth £1.7bn at its peak, owning the Del Monte fresh fruit division giving it control on one of the biggest names in that business.

With pre-tax profits of £161.4m, net assets of £845m and 17,227 employees, the Polly Peck group was one of Britain’s top one hundred quoted companies.

The parent company and its subsidiaries were the largest employers in northern Cyprus (after the state) with 7,500 employees there.

The mogul spent millions on Mayfair mansions, grand country estates, antiques and sports cars including a Bentley Continental, a Bentley Turbo and a Ferrari Testarossa.

He also made generous donations to the Conservative party.


By 1990, however, it had all fallen apart.

Polly Peck International (PPI) had debts of £550m when it entered administration in 1990, but Nadir has argued it was solvent and he was replacing that money with injections of Turkish currency from his family and various Turkish associates.

He claimed he was in the process of arranging £70m of refinancing from three Turkish banks on 24 October 1990 when the PPI board voted to put the company into administration.

The prosecution alleges that Mr Nadir stole nearly £150m from his business empire for himself, his family and friends, through a complex series of including transfers to a bank he owned in northern Cyprus.

In 1990, Nadir was charged with embezzling money from Polly Peck, and faced trial on 33 separate counts of false accounting and theft, when he chartered a light aircraft from the UK and fled to Northern Cyprus in May 1993, on the eve of his trial.

An agreement with the UK, underpinned by Nadir’s need to ‘clear his name’ saw him return to London in August 2010 on the condition he was not remanded in custody, and lived in a £20,000-a-month rented house in Mayfair, close to the US Embassy.

His bail conditions include the £250,000 bail surety already paid to the court, surrendering his passport, wearing an electronic tag, reporting to a police station once a week, and being prohibited from going near any airport.

Where did it all go wrong?

It was claimed that Nadir siphoned off money from the firm to make himself, his family and acolytes rich at the expense of shareholders and staff, many of whom lost their jobs in the collapse.

Attending the trial with his glamorous second wife, 41 years his junior, Nadir tried to paint a picture of man whose departure in 1993 followed a perceived injustice in the face of his accusers.

Smiling like a benevolent uncle to reporters and cameramen when he attended the Old Bailey, it did little to sway the jury.

Elements of the trial and his repeated claims of no wrongdoing descended into farce at times.

Nadir made claims that when English currency was withdrawn from Polly Peck accounts in London, the equivalent amount was deposited in accounts in Northern Cyprus – a claim which the prosecution ridiculed.

‘135 tonnes of cash’

Philip Shears, QC, prosecuting, said one deposit slip in June 1988 suggested that 148.8m Turkish lire (TL) were deposited in 100TL banknotes – a physical amount 300 times the height of Nelson’s Column – to balance a £6m transfer from PPI. Mr Nadir says this was done by his mother, Safiye Nadir.

“Such a huge quantity of banknotes is likely to have weighed 135,185kg – over 135 tonnes,” said Mr Shears.

“What is also open to question is how the defendant’s mother was physically able to transport and deposit such vast quantities of banknotes on a regular basis.

“Without being flippant, we are now in the realms of fork-lift trucks and vans stuffed full of banknotes. Moreover, from where did she or others get all this money?”

Nadir was frequently asked why, if he was innocent, as he continually protested, did he flee the UK in 1993 in the face of a criminal trial?

He told the court he was a ‘broken man without hope’ but had to return, despite doctor’s orders, because he could not live “with injustice”.

It seems neither could the Serious Fraud Office.