In The Courts: Camelot's American will quit if he loses bribery case

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Guy Snowden, chief executive of the US lottery company GTech, said yesterday that if the jury found that he had offered a bribe to Richard Branson, he would resign his directorship of Camelot, which runs the National Lottery. Rosa Prince was in the High Court to hear the argument.

In a day of heated exchanges in the courtroom, the chief executive of GTech, which owns a 22 per cent share in Camelot, continued to deny he had offered Richard Branson a bribe at a lunch in September 1993 to pull out of the bidding to run the National Lottery.

Guy Snowden, whose British partners in Camelot were to be De La Rue, Racal, ICL, and Cadbury-Schweppes, said he was aware of Mr Branson as a "very famous man" before the entrepreneur issued the invitation to lunch.

Two days before the meeting, Mr Branson had telephoned Mr Snowden and told him he was going to enter a bid, and that he was aware of GTech's expertise, and wanted it to be part of his plans. Mr Snowden said he was already committed to a consortium but the two men talked about Mr Branson's plans to give all the operator profits to charity, and the percentages involved. Mr Snowden said he was happy to meet to explore potential business possibilities.

When asked by his barrister, Richard Ferguson QC, if he remembered saying the words: "In what way can we help you, Richard?" he replied: "I do not recall those at all. The only thing I said was, `What can we do together?'."

Mr Ferguson asked if he remembered saying: "I mean, what can I do for you personally?" Mr Snowden replied: "In no way did I ever say personally."

Mr Snowden was asked by George Carman QC, on behalf of Richard Branson, if he could see any circumstances in which it would be proper to stay on as a director of Camelot if the jury found he had attempted to bribe Mr Branson. "I think it would be unlikely," he said.

Mr Branson is being sued for libel over allegations he made in a Panorama programme in 1995 that he was offered a bribe by Mr Snowden to withdraw his bid to run the lottery.

The Virgin chief is in turn suing GTech and Mr Snowden for libel after they said the bribe allegation was untrue.

As one of the largest individual shareholders in GTech, Mr Snowden told the court he held pounds 30m capital. In addition, he received pounds 3m earnings in 1997 from GTech, two and a half times his earnings in 1993.

When asked by Mr Carman why his salary had increased by so much, he said: "Because I deserved it."

The National Lottery has a turnover of around pounds 100m a week, of which Camelot takes 10 per cent. Mr Carman said: "All in all, GTech has done quite nicely out of the National Lottery in terms of profit."

"Certainly," Mr Snowden replied. He agreed that GTech had "three bites of the cherry", in the lottery: the company's share in Camelot, supplying the machinery to retailers and supplying another company with parts for the machines.

Mr Snowden agreed that the profits of most lotteries in the rest of the world go to charity. When asked if that wasn't what Mr Branson had wanted to do, he said: "I've got shareholders that have to be looked after. If Mr Branson wants to give to charity or burn it, it doesn't matter to me."

Mr Snowden said there would have been no need to bribe Mr Branson as he did not see him as a threat. "I had a lot of other competitors ... I wouldn't have ranked him [Mr Branson] very high, based on the degree of preparation he had undertaken at that time."

Mr Snowden described his humiliation when he saw the Panorama programme containing Mr Branson's allegations. "It was extremely unfair," he said. "To actually see it on a broadcast was humiliating. I felt pursued and very uncomfortable."