LONDON, Nov 21 (Reuters) - 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 billion.
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 London.
“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 here.”
The jury had previously heard that one of Dahdaleh’s bail conditions was that he should not contact any prosecution witness.
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 government figures.
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 corrupt.
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.