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Friday, 01 August 2014

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Accused Cumbrian tycoon was just being ‘helpful’, court told

A business tycoon accused of attempting to secure a £90m contract by landing a bank governor’s son a place at a top university said he was just being “helpful”.

Bill Lowther photo
Bill Lowther

Related: Cumbrian businessman warned over deal, trial told

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

The packaging magnate stumped up more than £21,000 for tuition and accommodation for Le Duc Minh and chauffeured him to an interview with the course director after setting up the meeting, it is claimed.

It is alleged his efforts were part of a package of bribes aimed at securing a lucrative contract for his banknote printing firm Securency. Lowther, who denies corruption, said he had helped Mr Minh after he was contacted by Securency managing director Miles Curtis in January 2003.

He said: “I believe he said that the governor said he would very much like his son to go to the UK as part of his education.

“He was of the view that I was involved with universities and was it possible for me to help. I took the view that I would try to be helpful.”

He told Southwark Crown Court he was aware that Durham University was keen to attract overseas students.

“[I thought] I would be doing two things, helping a young fellow in terms of his education and helping the university in terms of coming up with a possible student,” he said.

“I made it absolutely clear to Miles that if he contacts them then this is not a third world university. Durham has got a huge reputation and the young fellow will have to have all the appropriate qualifications that were required as part of him receiving an entry to the university.”

Lowther, of St Aidans Road, near the city’s Warwick Road, went on to tell the court that he had been asked to act as a referee for Mr Minh on his application form.

He said: “They had asked me to be a referee because they thought it would be better to have a British referee.

“ I made it clear to him, Le Duc Minh, that I’m quite happy to provide a reference but I'm not going to make things up.”

Prosecutor Richard Jory has told the court that Securency was in financial difficulties and wanted to win over the governor of the State Bank of Vietnam to bag the multi-million pound deal.

“In order to curry favour, the defendant and others based in the UK, Australia and Vietnam devised a plan to secure and finance a place on an MBA course at Durham Business School,” he said.

He added Lowther went to great lengths to cover up his role in the alleged corruption. Lowther was also a director of UCB, now known as Innovia, which has an office in Wigton. It had a 50 per cent stake in Securency at the time of the alleged corruption in 2003. He has has pleaded not guilty to a single count of conspiracy to corrupt between January 1 and December 31, 2003. The trial continues.

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