Branson defiant at no-bribe ruling on Oflot

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The Independent Online
Richard Branson vowed to press ahead with legal action, despite a report by a senior criminal barrister yesterday that he was not the subject of a bribery attempt by the representative of the rival bidder for the National Lottery.

Mr Branson expressed "amazement" that the regulator should have sanctioned publication of the Rafferty report so close to a court case, "but nothing about Oflot surprises me any more," he added. He also pointed out that he could have sought an injunction preventing publication, but chose not to do so.

"I look forward to the verdict of a British jury who will have had the chance of hearing both sides of the story," he said.

Mr Branson issued a statement saying that he had not co-operated with the Rafferty inquiry, set up by Peter Davis, director-general of the lottery watchdog, Oflot, which cleared Guy Snowden of GTech, the US operator and part of the winning Camelot consortium, of offering Mr Branson an inducement to pull out of the battle.

He said the findings of Anne Rafferty QC, were entirely based on a written submission from Mr Snowden's solicitors.

"She has not heard our side of the case. It has been a toothless inquiry," said the Virgin founder.

The report could be seen as a blow to Mr Branson, who is suing Mr Snowden and GTech for libel. The bribery allegation was made on BBC's Panorama programme in December last year.

On the programme, Mr Branson said that during a lunch in 1993 at his Holland Park home-cum-office, Mr Snowden allegedly said: "Well, I don't know how to phrase this, Richard. There is always a bottom line. I'll get to the point. In what way can I help you, Richard? I'm sure everybody needs something."

Mr Branson says that was an offer of a backhander. Mr Snowden says it was not, and is suing Mr Branson for suggesting that he was trying to bribe him.

In her report, Ms Rafferty suggests it unlikely that a businessman of Mr Snowden's experience would expose himself to such an accusation. The barrister also questions why it took two years for Mr Branson to go public with the claim.

GTech said yesterday: "GTech are pleased that the Rafferty report has been published and we welcome its conclusions. We are unable to comment further due to the impending legal case."

Mr Davis will be taking no further action as a result of the report.

A statement from his office said that Mr Davis, "will continue to exercise his duties in determining whether the mem- bers of the Camelot consortium are 'fit and proper' for their roles in running the National Lottery".

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