Playing Russian Roulette, Allwyn Rolls Over UK Lottery


At the end of this month, some two-years after first facing accusations of being a business lackey of Vladimir Putin, the billionaire owner of Allwyn–the company that runs the UK National Lottery–is finally cutting all his financial ties with the Russian regime.

Czech tycoon Karel Komárek, who owns Allwyn through his Swiss-based KKCG holding company, was accused of pro-Russia ties and being an enabler of Russian strongman Putin by rival bidders during the frenzied 2022 bidding war to win the new 10-year licence to run the UK Lottery.

Allwyn was the front-runner in the race to displace origin site holder Camelot, who had operated the British Lotto since its inception in 1994.

But Camelot and other bidding rivals–among them porn and media baron Richard Desmond, owner of Northern & Shell–alleged Allwyn were unfit to run the lottery because MND, a subsidiary of KKCG, operated a gas storage facility in the Czech Republic in a 50/50 partnership with Russian state energy company, Gazprom.

Given Putin’s dictatorial rule, widespread human rights abuses and brutal invasion of Ukraine, anyone with financial links to the Russian regime should be excluded from the bidding process, they argued.

Komárek responded by promising to cut his Russia business interests and accordingly, amid much controversy, his company Allwyn was awarded the fourth permit to run the lottery by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) licensing authority, starting February this year, on this condition.

Now it’s emerged that Gazprom still owns a stake in the Czech Republic Moravia Gas Storage facility in Dambořice municipality.

In June 2022, four months after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, UKGC staff told British lawmakers that Komárek’s MND was planning to end its Gazprom partnership “within days”.

Questionable

Those days have run into months and now years; two years, to be precise, before MND will buy-up the remaining three percent Gazprom stake in the gas storage facility, by the end of this month.

“This matter has finally been resolved,” said Tory M.P. Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative party leader and hardline anti-gambling industry campaigner.

“But it is highly questionable as to why it has taken so long, and deeply concerning that it has been so difficult to just get transparent information about one of the UK’s largest public sector contracts.”

Once Allwyn launched its bid to run the UK Lottery, Komárek publicly condemned Putin and the invasion of Ukraine on several occasions.

And a spokesperson for his KKCG holding company has confirmed: “Following a decision taken at the MGS general meeting, MND will become 100 percent shareholder in MGS by the end of June 2024.

“The 50/50 MGS joint venture was established in 2013.

“In the immediate aftermath of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, MND worked in partnership with the Czech state to prevent a strategic national energy asset from coming under Russian control.

“This has been achieved after passing through a number of necessary legal and regulatory processes.”

Nevertheless, with the UK Lottery’s parent having previously borrowed millions from Russian state-owned banks VTB and Sberbank, at the time it won the UK lottery contract, doubts about Komárek’s links to Putin and his war machine persist.

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