The chair of a UK Gambling Commission committee that last month awarded the country’s National Lottery contract to Allwyn Entertainment was previously a big deal in Russia’s finance sector, The Mail on Sunday has learned.
That’s controversial because Allwyn is owned by Czech billionaire Karol Komarek, who also has business ties to Russia.
Komarek joint-owns an underground gas storage facility in the Czech Republic in a 50-50 partnership with the state-owned Russian energy giant, Gazprom. He has publicly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
On March 15, the National Lottery Competition Committee (NLCC) named Allwyn as its preferred bidder for the lottery, one of the UK’s most lucrative public sector contracts.
But according to the MoS, from 2005 to 2008, its chair, Stephen Cohen, ran the hedge fund arm of Troika Dialog, once described as “the Kremlin’s preferred investment bank.” While there, he worked under Andrey Sharonov, Putin’s former deputy economic minister.
Cohen was also a director of financial intermediary EG Capital Advisors from 2017 to 2021. EG is controlled by Igor and Alexander Mints. Their father is exiled Russian oligarch Boris Mints.
Russia Ties Undeclared
Despite this, there is no mention of Cohen’s Russian connections in his biography on the UKGC website, and they were also omitted from the government announcement of his appointment in 2020. Nor does Cohen mention Russia anywhere on his LinkedIn page.
While Cohen has no suggestion of wrongdoing, the lack of transparency could strengthen the claims of losing bidders who are already challenging the decision.
Camelot Group, which has operated the lottery since its 1994 inception, filed legal proceedings against the UKGC in London’s High Court earlier this month. Its complaint focuses on allegations that the regulator changed the rules in the final weeks of the selection process to benefit Allwyn.
Italian lottery operator Sisal, recently acquired by Flutter Entertainment, is believed to be considering joining the Camelot lawsuit.
Meanwhile, another defeated bidder, British billionaire Richard Desmond, launched a legal challenge of his own last week.
“This is such a big decision; all of this must be completely above board, particularly as the decision is being challenged, and given the company awarded the license has its owns links to Russia,” Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith told the MoS.
This is important given what has been happening politically in Russia for a long time. I’m surprised to find the chairman of the committee has Russian connections that are not declared,” Smith added.
In a statement, a UKGC spokesperson said information regarding applicants was anonymized during the board’s final decision. “A fair and transparent process was in place to only identify the application that best meets the needs of the National Lottery.”
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