It's like the 1980s all over again today – Arthur Scargill's in the news, there's a new fish war (albeit mackerel, rather than cod), and Asil Nadir is finally coming back to the UK. Nadir was the East End rag trader who built Polly Peck into a FTSE 100 conglomerate; but it collapsed in 1990, amid suggestions of financial irregularities. Charged with no fewer than 66 counts of fraud and theft, Nadir swiftly hot-footed it to northern Cyprus, where he's been holed up ever since. But now he's apparently agreed a deal to return to the UK to contest the charges, without being thrown straight into the slammer on arrival at Luton. He claims he just wants a fair trial – but the fact that the case has gone so cold presumably makes a conviction much less likely...
Back in the day, Nadir was one of Britain's highest-profile entrepreneurs. From his humble beginnings in the rag trade, he built up a £2bn business empire via a series of apparently ingenious acquisitions, from Sansui Electronics to Del Monte's fruit business. His fortune was estimated at £200m, while he rubbed shoulders with the elite of British society, from the royal family to Tory ministers (he was later implicated in the 'cash for questions' row that ousted Northern Ireland minister Michael Mates). But he went from hero to zero when Polly Peck went bust and he was accused of secretly transferring some £34m out of the company through various offshore vehicles – although because he promptly skipped the country to take refuge in Cyprus, the case never came to trial. (And thus the charges remain totally unproven. Your Honour).
However, he's now decided to come back voluntarily – apparently, according to the Times (which has scooped an interview with the 'great' man), because he's 'eaten up by a sense that he's been done a terrible wrong' and wants 'closure of this long-running case in a fair and just way'. He told the BBC this morning that the 'environment' was now right for his return – that he could now get a fair trial, whereas before his hasty exit he had been 'battling with immense injustice and tremendous abuse of power in Britain'. In other words, the suggestion seems to be that it was all a big conspiracy against him and he's now coming home to set the record straight. (Or perhaps he just missed the British weather, or he's run out of Del Monte pineapple chunks?)
But whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation (and Nadir is entirely innocent until proven guilty, natch), the fact remains that it will be devilishly difficult to build a case against him now. It's 20 years since the demise of Polly Peck – most of the people who investigated him on the fraud charges will have long moved on to pastures new, and any reliable first-hand testimony will be very hard to come by. The Tories might also be a bit uneasy about all the potential publicity surrounding a man who used to be a major contributor to the party. And, let's face it, the SFO's record in successful prosecutions isn't exactly impeccable at the best of times. We shall see...
In today's bulletin:
Nadir for SFO as Polly Peck tycoon comes back to face the music
Diageo looks beyond UK for booze bonanza
What Arthur Scargill has in common with Neutron Jack Welch
Survey in 'cold calls are annoying' shock
Letters from Malawi: The NGOs doing more harm than good