Nevermind the outcome of the Asil Nadir prosecution, who has taken the greater risk - the former Polly Peck chief in returning to face the courts or the Serious Fraud Office in negotiating his return?
Nadir faces jail if convicted after 17 years on the run, but the SFO risks its reputation if he is found not guilty.
Nadir headed the textiles to fruit-packaging group during the 1980s when the penny shares soared to £33 and into the FTSE 100, making it the decade’s fastest growing share.
It was never a blue-chip, however, because its accounting practices, governance and transparency posed too many questions and it went bust in 1990. He was charged with 66 offences involving £34m and chose to flee to his native Northern Cyprus rather than face trial.
With that state deemed illegal and no extradition treaty, Nadir has been beyond justice. But that 17 years abroad makes the resumption of prosecution extremely difficult.
The original SFO team has retired or left; witnesses are old, dead or have faded memories of events from the 1980s; records may be lost.
And despite the SFO deal to allow his return – tagged and with his passport confiscated – is the will to find him guilty still there?
The government agency may be ready to prosecute, but will a jury be inclined to convict after so long, when the balance of doubt will go to the defendant and the crime, if there was one, now seems so distant – and even small?
A prosecuting counsel, judge and jury distanced from the excitement of the time may seem the ideal unbiased judicial environment, but if it makes conviction less likely, the defendant has benefited from delaying the case by nearly two decades. Fleeing justice has given him an advantage and disadvantaged the SFO.
And Nadir cannot be convicted for jumping bail, irrespective of whether he committed the 66 alleged offences, because it has now been ruled that the documents were technically incorrect.
A not-guilty verdict will allow Nadir to restore his reputation and permit his free travel to countries beyond those that turn a blind eye to North Cyprus’s status. But it will seriously damage the Serious Fraud Office.
The SFO cannot claim this is an old case irrelevant to its modern functioning when it has chosen to re-open it by agreeing Nadir’s return.
With the odds stacked against the prosecution, it might have been better to leave Nadir trapped on his island in the Mediterranean rather than have him in Britain gloating at the injustice against him. It cannot be fair that by fleeing justice Nadir has weakened the case against him.