Branson bribes storm grows

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The Independent Online

Peter Davis, the head of the National Lottery watchdog, threatened legal action against Richard Branson yesterday in the growing row over allegations of an attempted bribe in the bidding for the lottery.

The dispute erupted after Mr Branson alleged in a Panorama programme last night that the boss of a US company with a stake in the National Lottery operator, Camelot, offered him a bribe to pull out of the race to run the lottery. He said he had told Mr Davis about the alleged bribery attempt.

Mr Davis, director-general of Oflot, denied he was told of the alleged meeting in September 1993 between Mr Branson, chairman of the Virgin group, and Guy Snowden, chairman of GTech, the American Lottery equipment company that has a 22.5 per cent stake in Camelot.

Mr Branson claims he was offered the inducement to withdraw from the bidding process after it was revealed his own bid would be non-profit-making.

Oflot issued a statement yesterday, before last night's Panorama broadcast, saying: "Mr Branson's statement is untrue; any suggestion Mr Branson mentioned the allegation to Mr Davis, and he ignored such an allegation of impropriety, impugns the integrity of the director-general," Oflot said. "Accordingly Oflot is consulting legal advisors." GTech is also considering legal action.

Mr Snowden has sent a letter to Mr Davis demanding an emergency enquiry.

But a spokesman for Mr Branson said he would welcome a legal challenge. He said Mr Branson was considering legal action against GTech for suggesting he was lying: "This meeting was the main thing that tipped Richard's decision to put together a charitable consortium for the bid; he felt so strongly about it.

"We would welcome a legal action from GTech, and we would look forward to taking them to court."

The allegations have been denied by Camelot, which is making profits of pounds 1m a week from the National Lottery.

Mr Davis repeated his denial of knowledge about the allegations yesterday to the Public Accounts Committee, a Government body, at a meeting at the House of Commons.

Panorama also said last night GTech is the subject of FBI investigations concerning alleged bribes paid to officials in California, Kentucky and New Jersey with state lottery contracts.