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LONDON (Reuters) - The trial on corruption charges of businessman Victor Dahdaleh came to an abrupt halt on Tuesday when counsel for the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) told a London court there was no longer a realistic prospect of a conviction.
The collapse of one of Britain's biggest bribery trials in years is a serious setback for the SFO and follows a series of blunders in other high-profile cases which had already damaged its reputation.
"After careful consideration of all the circumstances of this case, the SFO has concluded that there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction ... and accordingly we will offer no evidence," Philip Shears, lead counsel for the prosecution, told Southwark Crown Court.
With the SFO not presenting any evidence, the judge at Southwark Crown Court instructed the jury to return verdicts of not guilty on all eight charges. The jury was then discharged.
Dahdaleh was accused of paying some $67 million in bribes to former managers of Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) ALBH.BH in return for a cut of contracts worth over $3 billion.
In a statement the SFO said it had decided to withdraw from the case after a key witness, Bruce Hall, changed his evidence during the trial. Two other key witnesses refused to attend the trial, it said.
"That impacts on the fairness of the trial as well as the prospects of conviction," it added.
The long-running case had involved allegations of corruption at senior levels of government and business in Bahrain, a sensitive issue at a time of political unrest in the secretive Gulf kingdom.
British-Canadian national Dahdaleh had pleaded not guilty to all the charges brought by the SFO relating to events between 1998 and 2006 at Alba, the world's fourth-largest aluminium smelter which is majority-owned by the Bahraini state.
Reporting by Estelle Shirbon, writing by Kate Holton; editing by Stephen Addison