A TYCOON has been cleared of bribing a Vietnamese bank governor by paying for a university place for his son in exchange for £90m of printing contracts.
Bill Lowther, 73, was accused of arranging a kickback for Le Duc Thuy as a reward for saving his banknote printing firm from financial ruin.
Lowther personally chauffeured the Vietnamese official’s son to an interview for a place at Durham University, but told jurors he was just being “helpful”.
After a few hours of deliberation, the jury cleared Lowther unanimously of conspiracy to corrupt.
He smiled when the verdict was delivered at Southwark Crown Court and shook the hand of the dock officer on his way out.
Lowther has been on trial for the last two weeks accused of forking out £21,000 for Le Duc Minh’s tuition fees and accommodation in the UK to “curry favour” with the powerful finance official. The court heard 29 Vietnamese contracts worth a total of 191m Australian Dollars (£90m) had been awarded to banknote printing firm Securency between 2002 and 2008.
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 told the court he had helped Mr Minh after he was contacted by Securency managing director Myles Curtis in January 2003.
Lowther 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 and he was of the view that I was involved with universities and was it possible for me to help in respect of a just getting him a name he could ring or contact.
“I took the view that I would try to be helpful.’
Alexander Cameron QC, who is also PM David Cameron’s brother, and was defending Mr Lowther, said emails discussing potential “red faces” if the deal was uncovered were sent while the defendant was abroad and out of contact.
Lowther suggested helping Mr Minh get a place, arranging the interview through a personal contact and offering to be a referee on his application form.
But he denied wrongdoing or knowing the arrangement was part of a bung to the Vietnamese official
“[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.
“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.
“I said ‘Look, if he comes he will have to go through the process’.”
Lowther was a director of Innovia, and the driving force behind the creation of Securency as a joint venture with the Australian Reserve Bank in 1996. But in 2003, Securency had run into financial difficulties and desperately needed the deals in Vietnam to shore up its future.
Prosecutors claimed a flurry of emails in January 2003 between Securency executives and Lowther showed a plot to bribe Mr Thuy.
Lowther started his career in 1970 with manufacturing firm OPP and eventually became UK managing director.
In 1990, he became director general of worldwide operations, with responsibility for 2,900 employees and a turnover of £424m.
He was allowed to sit behind his barrister throughout the trial because he suffers from hearing problems and would struggle to follow proceedings from the dock.
Lowther, of St Aidan’s Road, Carlisle, had denied a single count of conspiracy to corrupt between January 1 and December 31, 2003.
The jury unanimously cleared him of the allegation.