The man presiding over the award of a licence to run the lottery to a Czech billionaire has extensive links to Russia, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Veteran money manager Stephen Cohen chairs the National Lottery Competition Committee which last month handed the licence to Allwyn Entertainment, founded by Czech oil and gas tycoon Karel Komarek.
An investigation by the MoS found that Cohen spent years helping channel foreign investment into Russia and even worked for one of Putin’s former ministers.
From 2005 to 2008, Cohen ran the hedge fund arm of Troika Dialog, once described as the ‘Kremlin’s preferred investment bank’. It was a period when its investments included Russian state energy giant Gazprom, which has also done business with Allwyn.
Links: Veteran money manager Stephen Cohen chairs the National Lottery Competition Committee which last month handed the licence to Allwyn Entertainment
Cohen worked under Andrey Sharonov, Putin’s former deputy economic minister. Troika moved the management of the Cayman Islands-registered fund from London to Moscow after he left.
Komarek has condemned Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but questions over his business ties to Russia have been asked in Parliament.
His company MND in 2016 built a gas storage facility in the Czech Republic with Gazprom. Komarek’s group also owns a stake in a gas terminal in Russia.
Cohen, who sits on the Gambling Commission regulatory body, was also a director of financial intermediary EG Capital Advisors for four years until 2021. EG is controlled by Igor and Alexander Mints, the children of exiled Russian billionaire Boris Mints.
Cohen’s official Gambling Commission biography makes no reference to his extensive links to Russia and they were omitted from the Government announcement of his reappointment in 2020. His LinkedIn page makes no mention of Russia.
Existing lottery operator Camelot, as well as Richard Desmond’s Norhern & Shell group, are taking the Gambling Commission to court. Italian bidder Sisal may follow suit. MPs said the links raised questions over Cohen’s Russian connections.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who is vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for GamblingRelated Harm, said:
‘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 licence has its owns links to Russia.
‘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.’
Tory MP Dean Russell said: ‘This is one of the biggest contracts the Government will award. We need complete confidence in the decision and those who are making it. The process must be seen to be beyond reproach.’
The process to award a new ten-year licence began in 2020. The Gambling Commission said it listed Cohen’s potential conflict of interest through the EG Capital job online until 2021 when he left the role.
A Gambling Commission spokesman said Allwyn’s victory ‘followed a fair, open and robust competition which received four applications.
‘Throughout the application and decision process, information regarding applicants was anonymised, even during the final decision-making process by the board, meaning a fair and transparent process was in place to only identify the application that best meets the needs of the National Lottery.’
Allwyn, previously known as Sazka, runs lotteries in Austria, Italy and Greece, and plans to cut the cost of UK tickets from £2 to £1 when it takes over in 2024.