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Asil Nadir’s cash deposits ‘would be 300 times as big as Nelson’s Column’

Polly Peck chairman’s claims that money he allegedly stole was matched with cash deposits are ridiculed in court

Prosecutors have ridiculed Asil Nadir’s explanation that hundreds of millions of pounds, allegedly stolen from the Polly Peck empire he ran until its collapse in 1990, had been matched by cash deposits put back into the group via a Northern Cypriot subsidiary.

Drawing to a close his five-day opening remarks, Philip Shears QC, cast doubt on claims that huge cash deposits were made by, or on behalf of, Nadir’s elderly mother into an account at Industrial Bank of Kibris (IBK), a small bank privately owned by the Polly Peck executive chairman. Shears said the limited paperwork supporting these claims included forgeries.

One document purporting to be a bank slip appeared to detail a deposit of 148.8m Turkish lire denominated in 100 lire bank notes. “Such a huge quantity of bank notes is likely to have weighed approximately 135,185kg – over 135 tonnes,” said Shears. “As for the space taken up by such a volume of bank notes – if all the notes were piled on top of each other they would reach something like 300 times the height of Nelson’s Column.”

He added: “What is also open to question is how the defendant’s mother was physically able to transport and deposit such vast quantities of banknotes to a branch of the IBK on a regular basis. Without being flippant, we are now in the realms of fork-lift trucks and vans stuffed full of banknotes.”

When it was put to him by police in the early 1990s that no one at Polly Peck appeared to know about these payments into IBK, Nadir had said: “The whole accounts department, the whole treasury department here and in parts of Cyprus and Turkey, were the people actually doing everything. To say nobody’s aware of it is not a reasonable statement.”

Nadir, 70, denies 13 counts of theft relating to £34m allegedly stolen from Polly Peck between 1987 and 1990. The Serious Fraud Office claims these transfers were only part of a wider pattern of theft which saw Nadir siphon almost £150m out of the stock market-listed company for his own ends.

Auditors, directors and investors were allegedly fooled into thinking the money had been switched to subsidiaries in Northern Cyprus and Turkey. The deception was said to have been carried out with the help of a band of Nadir loyalists in Mayfair and Northern Cyprus. One executive who allegedly blew the whistle on Nadir’s cover-up story later claimed to have received repeated threats and said his house had been petrol bombed.

By September 1990 the purportedly cash-rich Polly Peck, which appeared to be generating much of its profits from Turkey and Northern Cyprus, agreed plans for a dividend payout and was making preparations to repay loans. According to the prosecution there was an increasing sense of crisis in the group as Nadir’s repeated promises to arrange for cash held by Turkish and Cypriot subsidiaries to be repatriated to Polly Peck were not honoured.

On 25 October the group had defaulted on its borrowings and was declared insolvent, owing £550m. Administrators were blocked from gaining full access to the accounts, records and bank statements of Polly Peck’s Northern Cypriot and Turkish subsidiaries, Shears told the jury, initially because of injunctions obtained by some of these firms.

Shears told the court Nadir had fled the UK months before he was due to stand trial in 1993 “in order to avoid prosecution”. He returned to the UK in 2010.

Shears suggested jurors, when they come to hear evidence from witnesses, may feel they have to make allowances for fading memories. He added that “quite a number” of witnesses who could have given evidence back in 1993 have died so their statements will be read out instead. Among them is the late Kemal Birgen, who had been general manager of IBK up to April 1991. Birgen had stated that deposit slips supporting Nadir’s version of events were forgeries.

After making such claims, Shears told the jury, Birgen later said he had been threatened, was sent dead chickens, and his house had been petrol bombed.

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