Paul Caruana Galizia investigates how a lucrative contract to run the UK’s National Lottery was awarded to a company whose Czech billionaire owner retains links with Russia.
Why This Story?
The UK’s National Lottery has raised billions of pounds for cultural projects, charities and sport since it was launched back in 1994. It is also an extremely profitable business for the private company that runs it – so it’s not surprising that each time the £6.5 billion public contract comes up for tender it is fiercely fought and often proves controversial.
The fourth licence competition began in 2018 and the pressure was on the government to run a robust and fair competition. But once again the final decision ended up being contested, this time by Camelot which is losing the licence after nearly thirty years. Sour grapes, you might say.
Except we know there was a feeling among MPs that a new operator was needed. So were the rules of the game subtly changed in order to make a change more likely? And in an attempt to get rid of an unpopular operator, did the British government usher in a new kind of problem?
Two weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Gambling Commission awarded the fourth National Lottery licence to a company called Allwyn. Allwyn is owned, ultimately, by a Czech billionaire called Karel Komarek. A man who has been outspoken in his criticism of Vladimir Putin, and of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but when the contract was won he hadn’t severed all links to Russia. And more than a year later he retains an interest in a joint venture with a Kremlin-controlled company.