Victor Dahdaleh, the London-based billionaire and former agent for Alcoa, went on trial Tuesday for making ‘corrupt payments’ of more than $65 million to the ex-chairman and chief executive of a Bahrain state-owned aluminum smelter.
Prosecutor Philip Shears told a jury at London’s Southwark Crown Court the alleged bribes helped win more than $3 billion in business for companies Dahdaleh represented, including Alcoa.
Dahdaleh, 70, was born in Jordan and holds dual Canadian and British citizenship. He has pleaded not guilty to seven charges of corruption and one charge of transferring criminal property.
Alcoa is not named as a defendant in the U.K. case.
The U.S. Justice Department opened a criminal investigation in 2008 into allegations that Alcoa and some individuals violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other laws by bribing officials in Bahrain, including employees of Aluminium Bahrain B.S.C. (Alba).
The Bahrain government owned 77 percent of Alba when the alleged bribes were paid. The remainder was owned by a Saudi government-linked firm and a German company.
In the London trial, Dahdaleh is accused by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) of paying about $62 million to the former Alba chairman, Sheikh Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa.
Bruce Allen Hall, an Australian citizen who was CEO of Alba from 2001 to 2005, allegedly took nearly $5 million from Dahdaleh.
Hall, 60, was extradited from Australia after his arrest there in October 2011. He pleaded guilty in the U.K. to a charge of conspiracy to corrupt. He admitted being part of a criminal conspiracy with Sheikh Isa and Dahdaleh.
Hall is scheduled to appear as the first prosecution witness in Dahdaleh’s trial.
Dahdaleh was arrested in London in October 2011. The SFO’s investigation started in 2009. The agency said it had been ‘in liaison’ with the U.S. Department of Justice and Swiss authorities.
Dahdaleh has been free on bail of $16 million since his arrest.
Sheikh Isa is named as a defendant in the case but hasn’t appeared at the trial. Bahrain and the U.K. have no extradition treaty.
The U.S. investigation was triggered weeks after Alba filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in Pittsburgh accusing Alcoa of a 15-year conspiracy linked to overcharging, fraud, and bribery.
The suit alleged that more than $2 billion in Alba’s payments under supply contracts passed from Bahrain to tiny companies in Singapore, Switzerland, and the Isle of Guernsey, and that some of the money was then used to bribe Bahraini officials involved in granting the contracts. Alba’s suit also named Dahdaleh as a defendant.
Alcoa said in October last year it had reached a settlement with Alba to end the civil lawsuit. In announcing the settlement, Alcoa said it didn’t admit liability but agreed to make a cash payment to Alba of $85 million, with half paid at settlement and the other half a year later.
Dahdaleh will argue at his trial that his payments to Sheikh Isa and Hall were essentially a tax or ‘government sponsorship’ common in Bahrain, a report from Reuters said.
The trial is expected to run until late January.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.