Fighting fraud is a just cause

Unpicking fraudsters’ complex methods requires significant but necessary Government resources

Philip Shears QC
Philip Shears QC

On 22 August the former head of Polly Peck International (PPL) Asil Nadir was sentenced by Mr Justice Holroyd, sitting at the Old Bailey, to 10 years imprisonment, having been convicted of 10 counts of theft from the company, totalling just under £29m.

The news of Nadir’s conviction and sentence attracted considerable publicity. It was a good day in the press for the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), praised for its determination in bringing him to account.

Nadir was charged in 1991 but fled to Northern Cyprus in May 1993, his trial having been fixed for the September of that year. As there was no extradition treaty, this effectively placed him beyond the reach of the UK legal system. He returned in August 2010, when he was granted conditional bail.

The revived prosecution presented significant logistical problems in terms of resurrecting such a complex case after 17 years. The trial judge set out a very demanding timetable, requiring a fresh indictment and new prosecution case statement by mid-December 2010 from what was, of necessity, a team entirely new to the case.

In 1990, counsel had been involved from a very early stage. We were now required to produce within three months what the original team had had very much more time to prepare.

It is no exaggeration to say that there were tens of thousands of documents to review, and much work had to be undertaken by the prosecution team.

It was an enormous task for the SFO to both identify and trace the huge number of witnesses. Decisions had to be made as to further avenues of investigation to be pursued.

Ultimately, 64 allegations of theft over a three-year period totalling £146m, including the allegations contained in the counts on the indictment, were put to the jury.

Whilst preparing for the trial, we were also required to respond to a number of abuse of process arguments, some of which required days of evidence to be heard.

These, together with the burden of considering disclosure amounting to thousands of documents, inevitably had the effect of reducing the time available for trial preparation and placed a significant strain on available resources.

The unpeeling of the layers of complexity which Nadir had employed to help conceal and disguise what had happened to the money, including his manipulation of trust structures, made for considerable difficulties in both case preparation and presentation to the jury.

After a gruelling seven-month trial (approximately six weeks of which was lost to jury illness), Nadir was duly convicted of the vast majority of the offences, and the SFO’s decision to prosecute was vindicated.

It is to be hoped that the Government will recognise the important public interest in the prosecution of cases of serious fraud and provide the resources for this to continue to happen.

The unpeeling of thelayers of complexitywhich Asil Nadir hademployed to help conceal and disguise what had happened to the money made for considerable difficulties in case preparation

Philip Shears QC, fraud and business crime specialist barrister, 7 Bedford Row Chambers

Shears acted for the SFO in the case.