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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

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Cumbrian tycoon ‘not in the loop’ on kickbacks, court told

A wealthy businessman would have stopped kickbacks being paid to a foreign bank boss if he had known about them, a court heard.

Bill Lowther photo
Bill Lowther

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

Former Innovia boss Bill Lowther, 73, is accused of bribing Vietnam's state bank boss Le Duc Thuy by paying for his son to study an MBA at Durham University.

The packaging magnate, from Carlisle, admits lining up an interview with an academic at the institution but denies knowing some £21,000 was also spent on the student's tuition and living costs.

Prosecutors allege Lowther hoped the move would ensure a lucrative deal to make banknotes for the southeast Asian country.

But the tycoon's lawyer, Alexander Cameron QC – older brother of Prime Minister David – argued his client was abroad without internet access or a fax machine when the details were discussed by email.

He said: “When these emails arrive, and are printed off and put on his desk, he’s in Spain – he doesn't actually see it.

“If he's one of the conspirators and he's in on this, why isn't he part of this little email?

“We suggest he had done his bit: get the guy an interview. That was what he'd done, and that was where it ended as far as he was concerned.

Mr Cameron added: “Mr Lowther is not in on this.

“The rest of it, the corrupt bit, isn't happening with him. Had it, he would have put a stop to it.”

Jurors earlier heard Lowther personally drove Minh from the airport to his interview at Durham University, as well as helping arrange the alleged corruption by paying his fees and accommodation.

The allegation relates to a period between January 1 and December 31, 2003.

Harvard-educated Lowther has racked up a string of honours during a career spanning four decades, including an OBE, CBE and honorary knighthood from the King of Belgium.

He started his career in 1970 with manufacturing firm OPP and eventually became UK managing director.

In 1990, Lowther became director general of worldwide operations, with responsibility for 2,900 employees and a turnover of £424 million.

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

Speaking from the witness box, he earlier told the court arranging the interview was of 'no importance' to winning the Vietnamese contract.

“'If I am asked to help a young person, I see this as kind of piffling,' he said.

“We help dozens of young people.”

The trial continues.

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