Branson attacked over lottery plan

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RICHARD Branson, whose Virgin Group successfully challenged British Airways over underhand tactics used against his fledgling airline, has become the subject of another dirty tricks campaign - this time over plans to bid for the new National Lottery and give any profits to charity.

An anonymous letter was circulated late last week to senior people connected to the lottery, attacking Branson's plans to bid through the UK Lottery Foundation and questioning the entrepreneur's commitment to the lottery.

The letter came just a few days after Branson announced that he would be backing a bid, along with Lord Young of Graffham, IBM and advertising agency J Walter Thompson, and ahead of tomorrow's announcement of the final details of what the lottery will entail.

The professionally produced and distributed document was attacked as a 'poison pen letter' by Des Wilson, the former Liberal Democrat campaign co-ordinator who is acting as spokesman for Branson's bid. He said he was convinced that it came from one of the rival bidding consortia.

'There is no doubt whatsoever that our bid will be subject to a sustained attack because we are a serious contender,' said Mr Wilson. 'They cannot attack our motives, which are laudatory, so they attack our credentials.'

Will Whitehorn, Mr Branson's spokesman, said that Mr Branson would sue whoever was circulating the letter, which he described as a declaration of war. 'Whoever sent this out should know they are at war with someone who will fight this war,' he said.

The lottery is designed to raise up to pounds 1bn a year for the arts and sport and has attracted half a dozen bids from consortia including parties as diverse as Granada Group, Cadbury Schweppes and merchant banks N M Rothschild and Hambros.

Mr Branson's bid is different as it aims to set up a separate foundation for any profits from the running of the lottery. He claims this will become the largest private charitable foundation in Britain.

The letter questions the way the UK Lottery will be set up, saying it could hit at other charitable donations and that the board lacks experience in running lotteries.

Mr Whitehorn said everything he had read in the document was either untrue or an interpretation that was 'outside reality'.

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