Asill Nadi stood silently in the Dock his fists clenched tightly at his sides, his face a mask of disbelief as he listened to the Jury’s verdict that he had stolen 29 million pounds from his own Company more than two decades ago.
And as he starts a ten-year prison sentence, an elderly woman more than 2,000 miles away in the hills of northern Cyprus was equally traumatised.
Elizabeth Forsyth, 76, who was Nadir’s personal banker at the time of the Polly Peck scandal, had hoped the trial might allow her to finally draw a line under her own personal ordeal.
Asil Nadir's personal banker, Elizabeth Forsyth, has spoken out to explain why the former tycoon returned to the UK to face justice after 17 years in exile
From reports she explained just why Nadir suddenly decided to turn his back on a life of luxury and return to Britain to face justice.
‘In northern Cyprus he lived in a beautiful home and has a beautiful young wife [Nur, 28]. But he had recently been discharged from bankruptcy this year and wanted to move on,’ she said apparently.
‘He wanted to travel again, as he could not travel beyond Turkey for all those years without fear of being extradited to Britain – and an important factor was that for the first time in all these years he had been offered bail while facing charges in the UK, something the Serious Fraud Office had never agreed to before.
‘But the most important factor in Asil returning to Britain was that we had uncovered a document which proved, we felt, that there had been no theft.
He thought justice would be done. Of course we feared he might be convicted. But I did not expect it. I am shocked and devastated. We all are.’
Miss Forsyth has been inextricably linked to the fallen Turkish Cypriot entrepreneur for two decades. And despite serving 20 months in prison – her conviction for handling stolen cash was overturned on appeal – she has been convinced, and tried to convince others, of Nadir’s innocence.
She still believes it is ‘inconceivable’ that as a 27 per cent shareholder – a stake amounting to more than £500 million – in his own company, he would risk that stake by stealing from himself. But could he not have lied to her too?
‘I may be made to look a fool, and others might think so,’ she says firmly. ‘But I believe the evidence is there that there was no theft. There is no evidence, in my eyes, that there was.’
It was a raid on Miss Forsyth’s company, South Audley Management (set up to manage Nadir’s personal matters), by the Serious Fraud Office in September 1990 that triggered the collapse of Polly Peck International.
The sudden implosion of the international fruit, shipping and leisure conglomerate left 23,000 shareholders with worthless stock. Nadir later fled by private jet to his home in Northern Cyprus where he remained until two years ago.
Miss Forsyth had been a high-flying personal banker whose clients had included film director David Lean and the Saudi royal family when the Polly Peck affair propelled her into her own private hell.
‘I was branded “Miss Moneypenny” and “Britain’s Most Wanted Granny”,’ she says. ‘I dreaded the arrival of the Sunday papers each week. I was hounded by the authorities because of the collapse of Polly Peck and my suspected role in it all.
‘But I never dealt with company money and at the beginning I was naive enough to think they would realise their errors and it would all be over.’ Miss Forsyth believes she was made a convenient scapegoat.
In March 1996, she was found guilty of handling £400,000 of stolen PPI money and sentenced to five years in prison, before being released on appeal. In 2000, she was arrested and charged with money laundering. That case collapsed in 2004.
‘The authorities just wouldn’t leave me alone,’ she says. ‘It was truly hell.’ The scandal robbed her of her professional life and threatened to steal her future.
Gone were the days when she earned a lofty salary, drove a BMW, wore smart clothes and bred Arab horses.
She sold her homes in Grantham and Chelsea, and gradually depleted her savings to make ends meet.
‘I was told to forget banking. In fact I realised I was unemployable,’ she says. ‘I was plunged into a new life I could never have expected or predicted. The darkest days were when I was sent to prison. The cell was filthy, riddled with cockroaches and there were some very sad cases among other women in there.
‘At Cookham Wood [a high-security prison in Kent] I had to clean out my cell – which the day before had been occupied by Myra Hindley. I remember thinking, “I’m cleaning up after Myra Hindley. This is as low as I can go.”’
Fallen entrepeneur Asil Nadir and wife Nur at the Old Bailey during his trial in June
Only when the last case against her collapsed in 2004 and she moved to northern Cyprus with her mother Peggy, then 97, did she succeed in finding any kind of peace.
She maintained her friendship with Nadir and kept up her fight to prove his innocence, explaining: ‘In 2007, we found some new and important documents. The SFO had never gone to northern Cyprus to look at the books of the PPI subsidiaries.
'But the PPI administrators had been there to review the books in July 1991. They produced a report nicknamed the “Mantle” report which virtually concluded that no money had been stolen from PPI.
‘The only comments they made were that the documents needed to be forensically examined. This was done – with a clean bill of health.
‘It was the existence of this report that persuaded Asil to go back to Britain. We all hoped that finally justice might be done.’
Sitting in the glorious garden of the 200-year-old home she shares with her partner Michael and her mother, who is now 104, there is little evidence of any bitterness in this feisty Scotswoman.
And she has never expressed anything other than support, bordering on devotion, to her former boss.
But there is a steely fierceness behind her otherwise genteel manner. Remnants of her previous incarnation as a leading City banker are evident in her cut-glass English vowels, impeccable suit, smart shoes and manicured fingernails.
Her two-storey village house in the leafy hills of Karaman is crowded with mementoes of an almost forgotten life – elegant antique English furniture, paintings and etchings, and colourful precious oriental rugs.
Her mother’s bedroom has a floor-to-ceiling glass-fronted cabinet crammed with antique dolls.
At first glance, it looks like paradise. But this is not a life Miss Forsyth would have chosen.
She had, she admits, ‘a cushioned childhood’.
‘My father Thomas McAlpine of the Scottish McAlpine construction family always treated me as if I was an adult,’ she says.
‘I had always liked singing – I sang for the Queen when I was 16 in her first Royal Command Performance at The Palladium. I was part of the backing team for Gracie Fields and Gigli. But my father didn’t think opera and the stage was a life for his daughter.’
It was not usual at the time for a young woman to go into business, but Miss Forsyth’s father encouraged her. She chose to go into banking.
She was looking after wealthy private clients at Citibank when in 1985 she was introduced to Asil Nadir by a Greek, Ted Petropoulos, with whom she had worked at the First National Bank.
‘I was invited to meet Asil at his offices in Commercial Road,’ she says. ‘It was the most wonderful office in the penthouse, full of English antique furniture.
Elizabeth Forsyth, left, joined Asil Nadir's family dinner with his mother, second left, at a local restaurant in Kyrenia, Northern Cyprus, in July 1987
Nadir pictured in his Cyprus home during his self-imposed exile
‘Asil Nadir was courteous, charming and immaculately dressed. I thought he was very charismatic.
‘Citibank ended up taking on his personal business for two years. I managed it. But then in 1986 his father died and he needed more help for his personal affairs. So in July 1987, I joined him and set up South Audley Management to look after his and his family’s personal matters.
‘We had our offices in Berkeley Square. There were cocktail parties and receptions. We used to have lunch sometimes on Asil’s yacht. It was a wonderful life.
‘I thought Asil was a visionary. He gave people a purpose, a wage and a lifestyle, particularly in northern Cyprus and Turkey.’
Miss Forsyth adds: ‘Asil was a workaholic. He worked six and a half days a week and was quite reclusive, a sort of Howard Hughes character. Very charismatic and I think quite visionary. But he needed his space. I loved working for him.’
Miss Forsyth denies that she had an affair with the tycoon.
‘People always thought I must have slept with him, but I never did,’ she says. ‘He might have wanted to sleep with me but you don’t have affairs with men like that. I think it would have been a disaster.’
How then, does she explain her devotion to Nadir? Miss Forsyth’s answer is unhesitating: ‘It’s simple. I have always believed he is innocent.’
If Nadir had been cleared, she would have considered leaving northern Cyprus, despite the fact that her children, Fiona, 45, and Ian, 40, live on the island.
She said: ‘There are things I have missed. I would like to return to either my roots in Scotland, or to Michael’s in Ireland. I don’t want to move back to England, it’s not home any more – the economy, the violence, the restrictions. There is a total lack of civilised behaviour as I knew it.’
Meanwhile the fight will go on. She says: ‘I believe he will appeal. We have all been involved in all of this for so long and we want to draw a line under it at some time. I believe we will be able to, eventually.’
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