Wembley executives accused of $4m bribe in US court hearing

SENIOR EXECUTIVES from Wembley, the UK-listed stadium turned dog track company, conspired to pay its US law firm $4m (pounds 2.1m) in return for political favours, lawyers making bribery accusations have told a US court.

The jury hearing the trial of Nigel Potter, the former chief executive of Wembley, Daniel Bucci, the managing director of its Lincoln Park subsidiary and the Lincoln Park subsidiary itself, has been shown faxes that allegedly describe how the bribe was planned. The company and the individuals are charged with planning to give its lawyers $4m to get more licences for slot machines and prevent a rival casino being opened.

"Candidly, much of our political success falls in the lap of our law firm," one fax shown to the court, written by Mr Bucci, said. "A $1m retainer for four years, without strings, sends a clear message of gratitude," it continued. Another fax from Nigel Potter states how the payments would be made sooner if the slot machine licences were granted ahead of the planned time.

The trial began in Rhode Island on Monday and the company, Mr Potter and Mr Bucci, deny all allegations against them. They will next week get the chance to put the defence case.

If Wembley is found guilty, it is almost certain to lose its operating licence to trade in Lincoln Park and would be forced to sell the resort. Lincoln Park is the main source of its profits.

Wembley has had a turbulent time since the charges. It had sought a buyer for the group, and at one point last year had MGM Mirage and a consortium of investors, BLB, involved in a bitter bidding battle for the group. BLB Investors eventually pulled out after agreeing a bid amid fears that a rival casino had approval to set up next to Lincoln Park with a more favourable tax rate. Ernst & Young, Wembley's auditors, quit their post in December as the trial neared. The firm had become increasingly nervous of being associated with a company involved in a bribery trial.

Wembley has set aside pounds 8m to cover costs if it loses the case. Nigel Potter stood down as chief executive following the charges, but Mr Bucci is still employed by the group.

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