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March 13, 2014 10:41 pm
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the US law firm, has told a UK court that two of its top partners behaved entirely properly and with their client’s best interests when they refused to testify in a London criminal trial.
Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith must determine whether an Akin Gump partner, Mark MacDougall, committed serious misconduct during the high-profile trial of Victor Dahdaleh, a British-Canadian “power broker”.
Mr Dahdaleh was acquitted in December of charges that he bribed a senior member of the Bahraini royal family in exchange for $3bn of contracts for companies he represented, including Alcoa, the US aluminium manufacturer.
Mr MacDougall flew back to the US during the trial rather than give evidence for the Serious Fraud Office, as was expected. The court heard on Thursday that this was because he had concerns over breaching legal privilege attached to a parallel US civil case where Alba, the Bahraini aluminium champion and his client, is suing Mr Dahdaleh.
Mr Dahdaleh is seeking an order from Judge Loraine-Smith against Akin Gump that it should pay for part of his legal costs following the UK trial’s collapse, which requires a finding of serious misconduct.
Hugo Keith QC, Akin Gump’s barrister, told Southwark Crown Court on Thursday that the stakes were high for both sides, particularly in light of the pending US lawsuit. Akin Gump believes that Mr Dahdaleh is also seeking a serious misconduct ruling in an attempt to have the firm thrown off the US case.
“This hearing has been elevated to something akin to a private prosecution,” Mr Keith said.
He added that while Akin Gump denies any legal responsibility “it’s obvious that the SFO believes the non-appearance was a material factor in the decision” to pull the case. Mr MacDougall expresses “deep regret” at the “frustration” this caused.
Mr Keith argued, however, that this “discourtesy” did not equate to serious misconduct.
Much turns on the duality of Mr MacDougall’s role, both as counsel to Alba and its employees – the chairman, Mahmood al-Kooheji gave testimony during the trial – and also as a prosecution witness himself.
Mr Dahdaleh’s lawyers have argued that Mr MacDougall in his role as a witness improperly obtained information as to what was going on during the trial and so was alerted to areas over which he might be questioned – typically witnesses are barred from knowing what others have been asked in the courtroom.
Mr Keith said the information came properly from a barrister who attended the trial and advised Alba on issues of privilege. While the barrister was not named during Thursday’s proceedings, he was identified to the jury during the trial as John Black, QC. Mr Black could not be reached for comment.
The misconduct issue is the latest twist to the case. Bruce Hall, Mr Dahdaleh’s alleged co-conspirator, may apply to rescind his guilty plea.
Mr Dahdaleh, meanwhile, changed legal advisers after Allen & Overy, the magic circle firm that he first instructed, were accused of improperly pressuring Mr Kooheji days before an original trial in April 2013 was due to start. Mr Dahdaleh is now represented by Norton Rose Fulbright.
Mr Justice Loraine-Smith is still considering whether to refer A&O to the attorney general for further investigation. He is expected to deliver his decision on A&O and on Akin Gump’s alleged misconduct next week. A&O declined to comment.
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