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Polly Peck is a name which, like Teena Marie or Olivia Newton-John, one recognises with the gloomy awareness that to do so makes one middle-aged. It denoted a company rather than a singer, but was equally emblematic of the 1980s, alongside chairman and chief executive Asil Nadir, who has been found guilty by a jury of stealing £29m.
Polly Peck was a small business that the entrepreneur and Tory donor turned into a conglomerate and stock market darling. Constituents included part of the Del Monte fruit group, personified in ads by “the Man from del Monte”, who was a shadowy arbiter of pineapple quality. Polly Peck’s collapse in 1990 reflected the popping of the Thatcherite growth bubble.
The conviction of Mr Nadir dispels any doubts that he stole cynically from fellow shareholders, exploiting a personal dominance of the business akin to that of Robert Maxwell at the Mirror Group. It is qualified good news for the embattled Serious Fraud Office, which prosecuted the case and badly needed to claim a high-profile scalp. The fraud buster has suffered a series of reversals this year, including the tragicomic collapse of an investigation against property developer Vincent Tchenguiz.
Polly Peck was essentially a cold case, revived only by Mr Nadir’s decision to return to the UK from northern Cyprus in 2010, after fleeing 17 years earlier. Many of the SFO staff involved in the original investigation have left, including director Robert Wardle. So the jury’s verdict is as much a vindication of how the SFO used to work as how it operates now. The government has misguidedly cut the funding of an agency whose in-tray contains such mammoth cases as Libor manipulation. Politicians must show they take white collar crime seriously, or weak deterrence will spawn more Asil Nadirs.