Van Hoogstraten yesterday wrong-footed the Crown Prosecution Service and astounded his enemies by walking free from the Old Bailey.
After serving one year of a 10 year sentence for hiring hitmen to kill rival property developer Mohammed Sabir Raja, Mr van Hoogstraten – whose fortune is estimated at more than £200 million – was told he would not have to face a retrial.
Despite an emergency application by the prosecution to the court of appeal, his lawyers persuaded the courts the man once known as the country’s youngest millionaire had no case left to answer.
Mr Van Hoogstraten described his politics as being “to the right of Attila the Hun” and became a vocal supporter of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe – may now be able to sue for wrongful imprisonment.
The 58-year-old tycoon, from Uckfield, East Sussex, had been cleared of murder but convicted of manslaughter following a lengthy trial at the Old Bailey last year. He was jailed for 10 years for his part in the killing 62-year-old Mr Raja in Sutton, south London, in July 1999.
The father of six was stabbed five times and shot at point blank range by Robert Knapp – a man, the trial heard, whom Mr van Hoogstraten used to “dissuade” people who upset him – and an accomplice, David Croke. The two hitmen were found guilty of murder and sentenced to life.
After the trial Commander Andre Baker, of the Metropolitan police, declared: “Mr Van Hoogstraten believed himself to be above the law. We have shown this isn’t the case.”
In July this year, however, the multimillionaire landlord – who once said he considered his tenants to be “filth” – had his conviction quashed at the court of appeal on the grounds it was unsafe.
He remained in jail and had been due to face re-trial next year but his defence team continued making fresh submissions to the courts, arguing there was no case left for him to answer.
Geoffrey Cox QC, Mr Van Hoogstraten’s counsel, insisted there was no evidence for a manslaughter case and that he could not have foreseen the attack on Mr Raja would inevitably result in his death.
Judge Sir Stephen Mitchell agreed, declaring: “If the act causing death was not foreseen, then it was an act for which the secondary party (allegedly Mr Van Hoogstraten) could not be liable. There is no halfway house. If he is not liable, he is not guilty of murder or manslaughter.
“I have come to the conclusion that if the prosecution were successful in establishing the facts, those facts could not found a conviction of manslaughter.”
For the prosecution, David Waters QC sought emergency leave to appeal against the judge’s ruling last Tuesday when the proceedings were still subject to a contempt ruling which prevented them being reported.
Mr Van Hoogstraten shouted from the dock in the Old Bailey: “It’s an absolute disgrace.” The judge rebuked him: “I know this is very difficult for you, but you must not interrupt Mr Waters.”
Yesterday three appeal court judges ruled they did not have jurisdiction to hear the application by the CPS and referred the matter back to Sir Stephen who released Mr Van Hoogstraten.
Ever since he was arrested, the property tycoon – who owns homes in East Sussex, Cannes, Monte Carlo and Florida – has maintained he was framed over the death of Mr Raja. During his original trial, he alleged that another figure in the property world, who had a grudge against him and subsequently fled abroad, was instrumental in putting him in the dock.