British Bus chiefs charged in pounds 1.2m company bribery scandal

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The Independent Online
NIC CICUTTI

Dawson Williams, the colourful boss of British Bus, the UK's largest privately owned bus company, was yesterday charged with eight counts of alleged bribery or attempted bribery of a bank official, involving up to pounds 1.2m, with the aim of obtaining favours for his company.

Mr Williams, who resigned as chairman of British Bus immediately after being charged yesterday, is accused of agreeing a series of interest free loans to Ian Harvey, an official with First National Bank of Boston.

Mr Harvey is charged with agreeing to accept the loans from his co-accused, "as an inducement or reward" for acting on behalf of British Bus or several subsidiaries in which Mr Williams has an interest.

The offences are mostly alleged to have taken place between January 1992 and the end of 1994.

The two men, who were arrested at 8am yesterday, appeared at a brief hearing before City magistrates before being released on bail.

The charges follow a lengthy investigation into the bribery allegations by the Serious Fraud Office.

British Bus, formed in 1992, is currently in the process of being acquired by the Cowie Group, the motor dealer, for a total of pounds 97m, after debts are stripped out.

Cowie said yesterday that the deal was still expected to go ahead shortly after a rights issue, due to close at the end of next week, to help fund the purchase.

A statement by Cowie yesterday said: "Details of the acquisition of British Bus by Cowie were set out in a circular to shareholders in June.

"These included reference to the fact that the SFO had served notices on certain of the current and former directors of British Bus requiring them to provide information and documents to the SFO.

It added: "The acquisition agreement provides for the resignation of Dawson Williams from the board of British Bus on completion of the acquisition and in the circumstances [he] has resigned from the board of the company.

"In addition, under the terms of the agreement, Cowie has received indemnities relating to the SFO's investigation."

A spokesman for Cowie said he was not able to give specific details of the indemnity agreed with Mr Dawson.

British Bus was valued last year at more than pounds 250m and had retained Hambros as advisers to help with a planned flotation.

The company was also considered likely to tender for parts of British Rail, but despite passing the pre-tender stage decided not to proceed further, partly because of the costs involved in tendering for the contracts.

The company was also part of a consortium that wanted to bid for BR's loss-making Red Star parcels division and was the preferred bidder. But those plans collapsed after the consortium was unable to complete the deal within the agreed timetable.

Throughout this time, the company's lead bank, heading a syndicate which was owed more than pounds 100m by British Bus, has been First National Bank of Boston. Mr Harvey - until his resignation last year - worked as the bank's "link man" with British Bus.

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