HC Deb 23 June 1993 vol 227 cc297-8
11. Mr. O'Hara

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement about recent discussions between his Department and the administrators of Polly Peck.

Mr. Neil Hamilton

My officials have in the past held, and continue to hold, long meetings with the joint administrators of Polly Peck International plc and their legal advisers in respect of matters arising in and about the proceedings under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 currently being brought against various persons involved in the management of Polly Peck International.

Mr. O'Hara

The Minister will be aware that the rise of Polly Peck began in stolen orange groves in occupied northern Cyprus. I know from a previous answer that his Department does not keep statistics of trade with northern Cyprus, but is the Minister aware that, according to recent statistics from the so-called Central Bank of Northern Cyprus, no less than two thirds of exports from that area were to the United Kingdom and that no less than 60 per cent. of those exports were agricultural produce from a subsidiary of Polly Peck? Will the Minister make it clear to the administrators of Polly Peck that those so-called assets of Polly Peck in northern Cyprus belong not to Polly Peck, or to Asil Nadir but, legally, to displaced refugees, such as those from Morphou? Will the Minister at last do something to stop the illegal trade between northern Cyprus and this country?

Mr. Hamilton

It behoves all Members of the House, by virtue of the great latitude that parliamentary privilege gives them, not to abuse that privilege and hence prejudice the outcome of any current criminal proceedings. To prejudice those proceedings could result in a failure to convict the guilty.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

I appreciate what my hon. Friend has just said, but does he appreciate that many of the assets held by Polly Peck and regarded as its own were actually illegally acquired from Greek Cypriot owners as a result of the Turkish invasion in 1974? Is there not a very strong case, given the recent behaviour of the Turkish Cypriot regime, for the British Government to toughen trade sanctions against the illegal regime in northern Cyprus, particularly on citrus fruits and tourism?

Mr. Hamilton

I think that we have strayed a little from the affairs of Polly Peck. I put my hand into the middle of a hornet's nest, which I had not anticipated. My only concern is to ensure that the administration of Polly Peck is conducted as quickly and efficiently as possible, so that creditors of the company are paid out and those who have committed offences are brought to justice as a consequence.

Mr. Robin Cook

Is the Minister aware that for the guilty to be convicted, they must first be charged? It is now two years since the administrator discovered seven separate donations to the Conservative party. Can the Minister tell us whether Companies House, the Department of Trade and Industry investigation unit or the Serious Fraud Office have investigated why none of those donations was disclosed in Polly Peck's accounts? If they have been investigated, can the Minister tell us why, in the two years, no charge has been brought for such an obvious breach of the Companies Act 1989?

Mr. Hamilton

I can easily explain that to the hon. Gentleman. Whether he will understand is another matter. As he is aware, criminal proceedings are currently outstanding against a number of the directors of Polly Peck. If Asil Nadir returns to this country, he will he subject to charges. As a consequence of being convicted of those charges, it would be possible for the court to disqualify him as a company director for a period of 15 years. As a bankrupt, he is currently disqualified as a company director. As a matter of course, my Department does not seek to impede the way in which the Serious Fraud Office carries out its investigations, because that might prejudice the outcome of proceedings. If we did as the hon. Gentleman suggested, we would prejudice the possibility of bringing Mr. Nadir to justice, because if we were to embark on disqualification proceedings against him at the same time as the Serious Fraud Office, he would inevitably apply to the court for a suspension of proceedings on grounds of prejudice. That could well delay the possibility of bringing the main action against him on which greater and more draconian penalties could be imposed.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is most unfortunate that Mr. Nadir said that he would co-operate with the administrators of Polly Peck and then sought to frustrate them at every turn? Is not it equally unfortunate that he says at press conferences that he wants justice and then flees from it? Is not it high time that he came back to Britain and faced the music?

Mr. Hamilton

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Mr. Nadir should put up and shut up, and I commend that last piece of advice to the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook).

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