Asil Nadir, the former Polly Peck International Plc chief executive accused of fraud, said he fled Britain in 1993 as a “broken man” with no hope of receiving a fair trial.
Nadir, accused by the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office of stealing 150 million pounds ($234 million) from the company, returned to London from Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus in August 2010 to face the fraud charges after a U.K. judge agreed to grant him bail if he did so.
Testifying today for the first time, more than five months after his trial began, Nadir denied stealing from the company he built and said that lawsuits against him by the company’s administrators left him bankrupt.
“By the time I left the United Kingdom, I was a totally broken man, my health was in tatters, my hope of a fair trial was in tatters,” Nadir, 71, said.
Prosecutors allege that between 1987 and 1990 Nadir and his associates withdrew money from the now-defunct electronics and food-packaging firm’s U.K. accounts, funneling it to Swiss and Bahamian companies. When London-based Polly Peck collapsed in 1990, its administrators found more than 700 million pounds owed to creditors was unrecoverable from units of the company, which Nadir built up during the 1980s by expanding into electronics and hotels and acquiring the Del Monte fruit brand.
The SFO accuses Nadir of 13 counts of theft totaling about 34 million pounds, using a selection of “sample” transfers. Prosecutors said on the first day of trial that the actual amount is about 150 million pounds.
Nadir said today that Polly Peck wasn’t insolvent when the board placed it into administration in October 1990.
“I think it had a tremendous future,” Nadir said. “And this is not one only I shared.”
The prosecution finished its arguments yesterday in the case, which was initially scheduled to last for four months. It has dragged on as jurors’ illnesses have caused five weeks of delays. Defense arguments are scheduled to last about a month.
Prosecutors said Nadir stole from the company’s accounts at National Westminster Bank Plc and Midland Bank Plc through at least 70 transfers, and that the money was used to secretly buy shares in Polly Peck and other companies. He also allegedly used the money to repay loans, make payments to family trusts and pay companies controlled by himself and his mother.
Nadir left England for Northern Cyprus in May 1993, the year he was scheduled to stand trial.
Nadir told the jury he grew up in a mining town in North Cyprus, where his ancestors had lived since the 16th century. He went to college in Istanbul before moving in 1963 to England, where he set up a textile company in London’s East End. It acquired Polly Peck, then a “very small entity,” in 1980, Nadir said.
He expanded the firm to more than 200 subsidiaries in food, electronics, textiles and leisure, with offices in Lefkosia, Cyprus, New York, Istanbul and Hong Kong, the SFO said.
SFO prosecutors told jurors that Polly Peck increased Nadir’s salary in 1990 to 350,000 pounds from 200,000 and gave him use of a corporate airplane and five cars, including a Bentley and a Ferrari.
Under Nadir’s leadership, Polly Peck loaned hundreds of millions of pounds to its subsidiaries in Turkey and Cyprus in the years before the company’s collapse. Nadir later said the money was for a capital expenditure program and advance payments to citrus growers to benefit the company, according to the SFO.