A lawyer for a defendant in a corruption case suggested the Bahraini government could influence the outcome of such a criminal investigation in the UK by citing the intervention in the BAE Systems probe in 2006, it was claimed in a London court.
Qays Zu’Bi, a Bahraini lawyer for the accused Victor Dahdaleh, is alleged to have told a meeting in April in Bahrain’s capital Manama, attended by two of Bahrain’s deputy prime ministers and board members of Alba, the state-owned aluminium producer, that Alba was under no compulsion to assist the Serious Fraud Office in its probe of Mr Dahdaleh. Mr Dahdaleh is accused by the UK’s SFO of eight counts of conspiracy, corruption and money-laundering.
Mr Dahdaleh was due to stand trial in London less than a week after the April meeting, Southwark Crown Court heard on Thursday.
According to Mahmood Al-Kooheji, Alba’s current chairman and an official at the Gulf state’s ministry of finance, Mr Zu’Bi had said: “There was another case that the SFO had been investigating, and that government [involved in that case] made some political interference and the case was suspended. He was referring to the BAE case. He suggested that Bahrain could interfere in this case; to politically interfere in the SFO investigation.”
Mr Al-Kooheji added: “He said if the case [against Mr Dahdaleh] continued, names of the royal family would be exposed in this investigation and that would be an embarrassment for the Bahrain government.”
Mr Al-Kooheji is a witness for the SFO in the case, which accuses Mr Dahdaleh of paying £38m to Sheikh Isa bin Ali al-Khalifa, Alba’s former chairman and a senior member of Bahrain’s ruling family, to win $3bn of contracts for companies that Mr Dahdaleh represented. These included Alcoa, the US aluminium company.
Mr Dahdaleh denies the charges.
Mr Al-Kooheji told the court on Thursday that one of the Bahraini deputy prime ministers had responded to Mr Zu’Bi’s claim in April by saying that Bahrain would not interfere in a criminal case being conducted in the UK.
In 2006, Downing Street cited national security when it intervened in an SFO investigation of alleged corruption at BAE Systems over payments related to a contract with Saudi Arabia.
The court has already heard that Mr Dahdaleh’s trial was postponed from April until this month after Mr Al-Kooheji alleged he had been “intimidated” by Mr Zu’Bi as well as by UK lawyers of Mr Dahdaleh from Allen & Overy, the City firm.
Two days after the Manama meeting, Mr Dahdaleh himself, Mr Zu’Bi and two A&O lawyers attended a meeting in London with Mr Al-Kooheji, in spite of Mr Dahdaleh’s bail conditions. These stipulated that he was to have no contact – either direct or indirect – with witnesses in the case.
Mr Al-Kooheji told the court he was “shocked” to see Mr Dahdaleh at this London meeting in April, because he and his lawyers from Akin Gump, the legal firm, thought they were there to discuss the possible settlement of a US civil lawsuit between Alcoa and Alba.
Mr Al-Kooheji said that one A&O lawyer, in a “very, very intimidating” tone, insisted that Mr Kooheji knew that payments between Mr Dahdaleh and Sheikh Isa had been approved.
Mr Dahdaleh’s barrister began to cross-examine Mr Al-Kooheji about the influence of the Bahraini government on Alba’s day-to-day workings.
A main defence against the corruption charges that Mr Dahdaleh faces is to demonstrate “principal’s consent” – in this case that either the government of Bahrain or Alba board members knew about the payments.
Sheikh Isa is named as receiving payments on the SFO’s indictment against Mr Dahdaleh, but is not involved in proceedings because no extradition treaty exists between the two countries, the court has heard.
Mr Zu’Bi is also absent from proceedings in which Bruce Hall, Alba’s former chief executive, has already pleaded guilty and given evidence.
The trial continues.
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