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Saturday, 01 November 2014

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Cumbrian tycoon ‘saw chance for business’, court told

A Cumbrian tycoon, accused of paying for a bank governor’s son to attend university in exchange for a £90m printing contract, admitted he saw a “business opportunity” in Vietnam.

Bill Lowther photo
Bill Lowther

Related: Cumbrian tycoon’s ‘bribes to win £90 million contract’ - court

Bill Lowther, 73, of Carlisle, allegedly footed the bill for the son of Vietnam’s state bank boss Le Duc Thuy to study for an MBA at Durham University.

Lowther paid out £18,000 in tuition fees and thousands more for student accommodation, Southwark Crown Court has heard. The packaging magnate, with honours including an OBE and CBE and honorary knighthood from the King of Belgium, even chauffeured Le Duc Minh to an interview with the course director after setting up the meeting, it was said.

The prosecution alleges that Lowther’s actions – which they say amounted to bribes – helped ensure the Vietnamese official awarded his banknote printing firm Securency a contract.

Lowther’s firm Securency was awarded 29 contracts in Vietnam worth a total of 191m Australian dollars (£90m) between 2002 and 2008. Lowther has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to corrupt between January 1 and December 31, 2003.

Jurors heard he told detectives he knew about the arrangements to get Mr Minh into the university, but believed it was a legitimate loan agreement.

When arrested in October 2010, he admitted helping the governor’s son to secure the place he desired.

“He accepts he saw an opportunity to get business in Vietnam”, said prosecutor Richard Jory. “He suggested a source of financial assistance to the governor’s son as he didn’t want UCB to be involved with the payment of the fees.

“But he said he never became involved in bribes.”

Lowther, of St Aidan’s Road, near Warwick Road, was interviewed again in March 2011.

He gave a prepared statement and said some of his previous answers had been inaccurate or confused because he was tired.

“He said he had nothing to do with the invoicing process and as far as he was concerned this was a short-term loan on behalf of the governor,” said Mr Jory.

“Mr Lowther’s case is that he assisted Mr Minh by providing assistance, arranging for the Durham university interview and providing a stay at Wigton Hall. But he denies any of this was done as part of a corrupt agreement to which he was party.”

The court heard Mr Thuy paid back the £21,000 in October. But Mr Jory suggested the deal was not a loan at the time it was struck in 2002.

“For the governor personally and for Securency, this agreement was of enormous material benefit,” he said.

“There is nothing wrong with taking legitimate commercial steps to secure and maintain business,” he said. “But in this case, conspirators clearly crossed the line to outright bribes.”

Harvard-educated Lowther started his career in 1970.

In 1990, he became director general of worldwide operations for manufacturing firm OPP, with responsibility for 2,900 employees and a turnover of £424m.

He took semi-retirement in 2002, but remained as a director until he resigned in October last year, shortly after he was charged by the Serious Fraud Office.

He was also a director of UCB, now known as Innovia, with an office in Wigton.

The trial continues.

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