Branson to be sued over lottery bribe claim

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The Independent Online

The head of GTECH, the American technology company that has a 22 per cent stake in running the British National Lottery, is suing the Virgin boss Richard Branson for defamation following Mr Branson's allegation last month that he was offered a bribe to drop out of the race to run the lottery.

Guy Snowden, chairman of GTECH, which provides equipment for 72 lotteries world-wide, was accused of offering Mr Branson the inducement to withdraw his bid during lunch at his house in Holland Park, west London in 1993.

But Mr Snowden has denied the comments made by Mr Branson, chairman of the Virgin group, in an interview on the Panorama programme, which he dismissed as "outrageous" and "untrue" at the time. "I have taken this action to restore my good name," he said.

According to Mr Branson, he was so shocked by the offer of a bribe that he took down a note of the conversation, which he said recorded Mr Snowden saying: "Richard, there's always a bottom line. I'll get to the point. In what way can we help you?"

Mr Branson said the offer followed his decision to make his bid for the lottery non-profit making. He said the extra money would go towards the good causes that benefit from the lottery. According to Mr Branson he was told by Mr Snowden that his plans could cost them "hundreds of millions of pounds".

Mr Branson has already issued a writ against GTECH, and is suing the company for accusing him of lying in the Panorama interview.

He has also refused to cooperate in an inquiry into his claims being led by Oflot, the lottery watchdog.

According to Mr Branson, the inquiry may not be independent because it was set up by Peter Davis, the head of Oflot, who fought off calls for his resignation last year after he admitted accepting a series of free flights from GTECH during a trip to the United States. The battle for the lucrative seven-year licence to run the lottery was eventually won by Camelot, which is making pounds 1m in profits each week from the lottery. It accepted GTECH as a partner and struck a deal for the company to provide the machinery for the British lottery.

Camelot has backed Mr Snowden in refuting that the offer of a bribe ever took place, but the company has refused to comment on the legal action.

"It is a matter between GTECH and Mr Branson," a spokeswoman said.

Mr Davis denies he was made aware of Mr Branson's claims when he vetted the companies involved in the bid to run the lottery. After the Panorama interview, he said he was also considering legal action for any suggestion that he was aware of the allegations of bribery.

Oflot said yesterday: "Mr Davis is not actively considering it at the moment, but he has not ruled it out."