Bill Lowther, 71, is being prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for allegedly helping to secure the university place for the son of then governor of Vietnam's state-owned bank as an inducement.

The prosecution is part of an expanding investigation across three continents into multimillion pound bribes allegedly paid by a banknote printing firm to land contracts.

The investigation into the firm, Securency, is being carried out by the SFO, in collaboration with police in Australia and Asia.

Lowther is the first person to be prosecuted by the SFO during the investigation.

On Tuesday, Lowther, of Carlisle, spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth during the short hearing at City of Westminster magistrates court, London.

Senior district judge Howard Riddle sent the case to Southwark crown court where there will be a hearing on 2 December. He was released on bail.

Lowther is alleged to have helped to obtain a place at Durham University for the son of Le Duc Thuy, the former governor of the bank, and to pay for his accommodation and fees. According to the SFO, the alleged conspiracy took place in 2003.

The son, Le Duc Minh, was on a postgraduate course at the university's business school in 2003-4. He has denied that his education was funded by corrupt payments.

Investigators allege that the former bank governor was induced to give contracts to the firm, Securency.

Lowther was a former director of the firm. He was also deputy chair of Innovia Films, a manufacturing firm in Wigton, Cumbria which owns half of Securency.

After the hearing, Lowther declined to comment.

In another part of its investigation into Securency, the SFO has been investigating suspected illicit payments to Nigerian officials.

By Rob Evans - The Guardian - September 20, 2011