It was a fairly normal telephone call that started the whole thing:
“We want to licence your software for use in Northern Cyprus and Turkey” OK , so far so good, and after a few telephone conversations with Mr Erdogan (I kid you not), it was decided that I would fly to Northern Cyprus to meet his company and finalise a suitable deal and therein started problem number one. The flight from Stansted was fairly uneventful , we flew to Marmaris in Turkey and then back towards Cyprus , intending to land at Ercan. Unfortunately the aircraft was diverted to Geçitkale, a Turkish Air Force base because of building work. It was interesting to stand at the end of a 10 feet long baggage reclaim which basically ran through a hole that had been knocked in a wall and watch a baggage handler throw bags onto the belt when in fact it would have almost been easier to pass them through the hole. Needless to say, my contacts had not turned up to take me to the hotel as promised and I consequently had to find a taxi.
The Dome Hotel Kyrenia
The hotel was to say the least “shabby Chic” and seemed largely unaltered since its 1930s heydays when apparently Winston Churchill was a regular visitor. In fact I think I got Winston’s old bed judging from the distinct sag in the mattress. Still the restaurant was still open and after a reasonable meal and a couple of beers I was ready for day 2
The knock on the door was prompt at 8.00 and a rather serious fellow announced that he was to take me to “the office”, fine, I jumped into his car and off we sped, He apparently only drove at one speed, fast, and 30 minutes later we arrived at “the office” which turned out to be in the middle of some sort of industrial estate. We walked through the entrance to be met by a single chair with a burly character sitting in it complete with what looked like a shoulder holster and a gun! Interesting start to the day to say the least. Up 2 floors and I was introduced to an Englishman I had never spoken to before and informed that Mr Erdogan was running late and would I like a coffee? After about an hour of “banter” and several coffees, during which time 4 or 5 other well-built Englishmen arrived and seemingly had little to be getting on with, Mr Erdogan arrived making excuses about his daughter and school.
There followed a discussion about licencing arrangements, market size and other sales “stuff” and then Mr Erdogan announced that it was time to meet the “principal”. We de-camped to a large, well appointed office where I was duly introduced to Asil Nadir yes that one, the one who legged it from the UK amidst the Polly Peck affair.
And so began about 6 hours of negotiations. For the first 30 minutes or so, the pleasantries were interrupted by a stream of arrivals, “my TV station manager”, “my radio stations manager”, “my newspaper editor-in-chief” and two or three others whose job titles I have forgotten.
This was getting a bit more complicated than I had imagined it to be, not only was I dealing with a wanted criminal, I was negotiating with the media empire he had created in his sister’s name (Bilge Nevzat), since “leaving” the UK in rather a rush. He was of course innocent, this being the first thing he told me when he realised that I knew who he was, he was apparently set-up by the UK Government and dark forces related to it and had been within 24 hours of clinching a deal to sell Del Monte for over £1Bn when the court had issued a warrant for his arrest. Had the deal for Del Monte gone ahead, he claimed, all would have been well and his various debts would have been repaid in full but the UK Government was not prepared to let him continue as the owner of a significant FTSE company (Polly Peck Group) and had plotted to take him out of the picture and in doing so had sold off Del Monte from under his nose for a knock-down price.
As discussions continued, Nadir was continually being called to the telephone to have conversations with various politicians involved in the Presidential elections, presumably offering to support them with his media empire if they wouldn’t extradite him back to the UK as he said was trying to organise a return to the UK to face his accusers under his own terms.
So, there I am, in the middle of nowhere, trying to do a deal with a wanted criminal whilst he is trying to do a deal to save his skin whilst surrounded by large men with suspicious bulges under their jackets. Who says sales is dull?
Eventually we arrived at an agreement which required Nadir to pay an advance royalty to cover the cost of localising the software and an agreed price per CD ROM which we would manufacture and ship for distribution to Turkish and Northern Cypriot schools, colleges and universities and via his newspapers to individuals. Apparently he had some sort of “facility” in London through which the money would be paid. I later found out it was, as ever, his sister’s company.
That night I was taken out for a meal by a couple of the English blokes from “the Office” and quickly discovered that they were essentially bodyguards and formerly domiciled in Hereford, apparently Nadir was convinced the British Government would have him killed at some point. We enjoyed a pleasant evening playing at “spot the member of the Det**” British soldiers who apparently used to sneak into Northern Cyprus via a ship or submarine, without passport or money, avoiding the Turkish army and completed their mission by ordering a meal at our restaurant ( I never found out who paid for the meal). After a few more drinks than was probably sensible, I retired to Winston’s creaky bed back at my hotel.
The next morning a new chauffeur arrived at 7.30, this one was extremely large (and I’m, 6’1”) and looked as if he had been in a number of fights with the All Blacks, all 15 of them, and won! It had been pouring down all night and the roads were flooded in many places, the inclement weather had no tangible effect on the speed of his driving and he took me directly to the correct airport at very high speeds whilst ignoring small difficulties like traffic lights and water a foot deep. He proceeded to carry my overnight bag into the terminal. I noticed he didn’t bother with the usual niceties of having my bag x-rayed and simply marched up to the front of a very large number of holidaymakers checking onto my flight, waved a hand at someone in an office, had a few words and got my bag chalked with a large X and gave it back to me.
I was put at the front of the queue and was first to board the aircraft, and for the duration of the flight home was the object of a number of strange glances and outright stares as people passed my seat on their way to the toilet having witnessed my rather unusual arrival for the flight
Finally I arrived back in the UK and gave a sigh of relief. Ultimately the deal fell through, no advances were ever forthcoming and my business partner and I, to be honest, were not too unhappy having spent several weeks expecting Special Branch to come knocking.
5 years later in 2010 Asil Nadir, now aged 69, turned up in London (as he told me he would) with his new wife of 26, and, probably much to his surprise, was eventually jailed for 10 years on 10 charges of theft of a total of £28m. In 2016 after the better part of 5 years inside he was transferred to a jail in Turkey from where he was released after 1 night behind bars.
I wonder if his old phone number still works?
In 2016 , shortly after his release, Nadir bought the former Geçitkale airport (renamed Lefkoniko) as an import and export “hub” for Northern Cyprus, the same place he managed to get me sent home from with so little “interference”. Its not what you know….
In 2017 The Times announced that there would be an inquiry into the the original Polly Peck case following the revelation that a Metropolitan police informant had lied about Nadir attempting to bribe a Judge and a senior Metropolitan Police Officer and therefore Nadir could not receive a fair trial. I can find no further information about the outcome of this inquiry. Presumably, if it were found that Nadir had indeed been set-up, the compensation would run to billions.
The Special Reconnaissance Unit, also known as the 14 Field Security and Intelligence Company (internally “The Det”) was a part of the British Army Intelligence Corps involved in plain-clothes operations in Northern Ireland from the 1970s onward.
In 1987, the unit became part of the newly formed United Kingdom Special Forces directorate. The unit was amalgamated with the Special Reconnaissance Regiment or SRR in 2005.
© Dalester 2018