LONDON Nov 21 The chairman of Bahraini
aluminium smelter Alba told a London court on Thursday that
lawyers from a top British firm had sought to intimidate him
before he gave evidence in a major criminal corruption trial.
Mahmood Al-Kooheji was appearing as a witness at the trial
of Victor Dahdaleh, a British-Canadian businessman accused of
paying over $65 million in bribes to former Alba managers in
return for a cut of contracts with suppliers worth over $3
Dahdaleh, 70, has pleaded not guilty to eight charges
brought by Britain's Serious Fraud Office related to events
between 1998 and 2006.
The sums involved make it one of the biggest bribery trials
seen in Britain for years, and it has a particular sensitivity
because of alleged corruption by senior figures in Bahrain at a
time of political unrest there.
Speaking in the witness box, Al-Kooheji described a meeting
that took place in London on April 4 this year, four days before
Dahdaleh's trial was originally scheduled to start.
Present at the meeting were Al-Kooheji and his lawyers, and
Dahdaleh and three of his lawyers from Allen & Overy, a
prestigious London law firm.
A spokesman for Allen & Overy declined immediate comment on
what Al-Kooheji told the court. The firm is part of the
so-called "magic circle" of top London law firms.
Al-Kooheji said he had been led to believe that the purpose
of the meeting was to discuss a possible settlement of a civil
lawsuit brought by Alba against Dahdaleh in the United States.
However, he said, the Allen & Overy lawyers were not
interested in discussing that, but rather wanted to influence
what he would say at Dahdaleh's imminent criminal trial in
"He (one of the lawyers) was telling me what I needed to say
and I found that very intimidating," Al-Kooheji told the court.
"We went to the meeting hoping to settle the U.S. case, but
it was very clear to me that they came to the meeting wanting to
pressurise me and influence what kind of testimony I will give
The jury had previously heard that one of Dahdaleh's bail
conditions was that he should not contact any prosecution
As a result of the April 4 meeting, the trial was put back
by seven months and Allen & Overy pulled out. Dahdaleh is now
represented by another London firm, Norton Rose Fulbright.
Al-Kooheji said the Allen & Overy lawyers had insisted that
he should tell the court that he knew the payments that Dahdaleh
had made to Alba managers had been authorised by senior
The witness said he told them that was not correct and he
would say no such thing under oath.
Dahdaleh accepts that he made the payments, but the issue of
whether or not they were approved by senior government figures
is central to the case.
He is charged under an old anti-bribery law from 1906, which
says that if he was acting as an "agent" on behalf of a
"principal" who approved the payments, then they were not
That defence is not available under a new law introduced in
2010, but Dahdaleh is charged under the old law because his
alleged offences pre-date the new legislation.