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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003, 08:15 GMT
Van Hoogstraten's life of controversy
Nicholas Van Hoogstraten
Nicholas Van Hoogstraten was jailed for manslaughter but later released
As the millionaire property developer Nicholas van Hoogstraten is arrested over currency allegations in Zimbabwe, the BBC News website looks at his business practices and private life.

Once heralded as Britain's youngest millionaire, Nicholas van Hoogstraten has never made any secret of his robust approach to business.

During one of his many court appearances a judge described the tycoon as a "self-styled emissary of Beelzebub".

From an early age he aspired to be what he calls a "quality person" and was a great fan of Margaret Thatcher because she made him "proud to be English".

He left school at 16, joined the Royal Navy and travelled the world. Just a year later he sold his astutely acquired stamp collection for 1,000 and embarked on a business career, buying property in the Bahamas.

Now he is believed to have homes in Barbados, St Lucia, Florida, Cannes and Zimbabwe.

He has spoken warmly of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whom he once described as "100% decent and incorruptible". He holds vast fortunes in the African country and once said: "I don't believe in democracy, I believe in rule by the fittest."

Branded

Nicholas van Hoogstraten, 60, is no stranger to controversy and his list of previous convictions includes ordering a grenade attack on the home of a business associate, a Jewish clergyman who he claimed owed him money.

For that he spent four years in Wormwood Scrubs in the 1960s, but he would later face much more serious charges.

In 1999, Mohammed Raja, 62, was shot dead by two men identified as Mr Hoogstraten's henchmen, but the tycoon's conviction for manslaughter was quashed by the Court of Appeal in July 2003 and he was freed five months later.

Following his release from prison Mr Raja's family brought a 6m civil action against him.

In December the civil courts - where the standard of proof required is much lower than the criminal courts - ruled that on the balance of probability, Mr Van Hoogstraten was involved in the murder.

High Court judges ordered him to pay 500,000 interim costs but the businessman was typically defiant and has stated that Mr Raja's family would "never get a penny".

Mohammed Raja
Mohammed Raja was stabbed and shot by two 'career criminals'

Mr Van Hoogstraten also hit the headlines during an ugly spat with ramblers over a public footpath through the grounds of the enormous mansion near Uckfield in East Sussex.

Called Hamilton Palace, after Bermuda's capital, it is neo-classical, with a copper dome. It is estimated to have cost 40m so far and is reportedly the most expensive private house built in Britain for a century.

It is bigger than Buckingham Palace and has a 600ft art gallery and a mausoleum designed to hold Mr van Hoogstraten's body for 5,000 years. The mausoleum's walls are three feet thick because he said he wanted to "make the building last for ever".

Never afraid of a fight, he has described taking on a nun at school.

She "tried to whack me with a chair-leg once - I grabbed it and hit her and she never tried again".

The only purpose in creating great wealth like mine is to separate oneself from the riffraff
Nicholas van Hoogstraten
He was born in 1946 in Shoreham, East Sussex, as plain Nicholas Marcel Hoogstraten - the "van" was added later. His father was a shipping agent and his mother a housewife.

With the profits he made from his Bahama property deals, he moved on to the British housing market, buying six properties in Notting Hill, London, before moving on to Brighton.

By the time he was 22, he was reputed to have had 350 properties in Sussex alone and to have become Britain's youngest millionaire.

But he also gained a sinister reputation and was accused of using strong-arm tactics against tenants of slum properties which he bought cheaply for redevelopment.

In the 1980s, as the housing market boomed, he prospered, acquiring more than 2,000 properties.

By the 1990s he had sold 90% of them, making massive profits and investing in other areas, including global mining.

When a fire broke out at one of his properties in the early 1990s in Brighton, he described the five people who died in the blaze as "scum".

'Filthy tenants'

To Mr van Hoogstraten his tenants are "filth", while people who live in council houses are "worthless and lazy".

Nicholas van Hoogstraten's mansion
Hamilton Palace, Nicholas van Hoogstraten's Sussex mansion
He once said: "The only purpose in creating great wealth like mine is to separate oneself from the riffraff."

He has also said he believes that "the whole purpose of having money is to put yourself on a pedestal".

He has five children - four sons and a daughter - by three different mothers.

He said he is preparing his eldest son Rhett, 20, to take over his empire - which he says is worth 800m.

In a BBC interview last year the property baron said he had no plans to retire, but wanted his son to be groomed to eventually take over.

He said: "I'm still young and fit and I've got a long time to go. I'd like him to shadow me and find out everything that's going on.

"But it's a difficult task because I keep everything close to my chest, nothing's in writing, there are no records of anything."



SEE ALSO
I won't pay a penny - Hoogstraten
02 Feb 06 |  Southern Counties
Tycoon 'responsible for killing'
19 Dec 05 |  Southern Counties
Hoogstraten grooming replacement
12 Oct 05 |  Southern Counties

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