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Monday, 20 October 2014

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Police question Cumbrian businessman as part of international corruption probe

Fraud detectives have interviewed high-profile Cumbrian businessman Bill Lowther in connection with allegations of global corruption at a banknote printing firm.

Bill Lowther photo
Bill Lowther

Related: Top Cumbrian businessman in worldwide corruption probe

Yesterday the Serious Fraud Office confirmed that a 70-year-old man from Cumbria and a 75-year-old man from the Thames Valley had been arrested and later bailed.

Mr Lowther, 70, who was awarded an OBE for services to the packaging industry in 1991, is deputy chairman of Innovia Films in Wigton.
There was no answer at his Carlisle home yesterday.

The investigation is part of an international probe into “alleged improper practices” involving a firm jointly owned by Innovia and the Reserve Bank of Australia.

Innovia has confirmed that an Australian police investigation into the company, called Securency, has now led to Wigton.

More than 80 members of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) carried out a string of dawn raids across the country on Wednesday.

As part of this, officers searched two homes in Cumbria as well as offices at Innovia. They confirmed this was part of a joint investigation between them and the Australian Federal Police.

A statement said this involved “the activities of employees and agents of Securency International PTY Ltd and their alleged corrupt role in securing international polymer banknote contracts”.

Officers entered Innovia Films at about 8am on Wednesday and searched paperwork relating to Securency.

They were understood to have been on the site for several hours.

Mr Lowther is a board member of Securency.

An Innovia spokeswoman yesterday declined to comment further on the investigation.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Wigton-based firm said: “Since May 2009 there has been an Australian police investigation into alleged improper practices involving Securency which is jointly owned by the Reserve Bank of Australia and Innovia Films.

“The police arrived at the Wigton site of Innovia Films early this morning as part of this ongoing investigation, to access information on the Wigton site related to Securency .

“The investigation is limited to Securency only and Innovia Films is co-operating fully with the police.

“As part of this investigation, Bill Lowther as a board member of Securency is co-operating with police, answering any questions they might have at this time.”

The spokeswoman confirmed that executives were not told police would be arriving at the firm’s premises.

The SFO added the operation had been supported by police in Cumbria, Surrey, Hampshire, Thames Valley and London.

They said six further search warrants were executed at UK addresses. Two raids were carried out in Spain in relation to three British nationals and six more were also carried out in Australia.

Mr Lowther has had a successful career spanning four decades. His list of personal honours also include a CBE for services to industry and the community and the Chevalier de l’Ordre De Leopold, an honorary knighthood from the King of Belgium.

He was named Wigton’s Man of the Millennium in 2000.

Carlisle-born, his career started in 1970 with Wigton film manufacturing firm OPP, where he rose through the ranks to become managing director of all UK operations.

He stayed for 20 years, leaving for a year to study at Harvard.

In 1990 he joined the UCB Films Group as general manger and director and in 1996 he was named director general of worldwide operations, taking responsibility for 2,900 employees and a turnover of £424m.

After a brief semi-retirement in 2002, he was coaxed back to UCB as executive deputy chairman.

He has served as chairman of Cumbria Strategic Partnership, chairman of governors at St Bees School and as a governor at Wigton’s Nelson Thomlinson.

Mr Lowther has also been a magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant of Cumbria. In 2008, he was awarded the lifetime achievement award at the CN Group Business Awards.

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