UK businessman accused of corrupt Bahrain payments

Tue Nov 5, 2013 5:56pm EST
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By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON Nov 5 (Reuters) - A British prosecutor alleged on Tuesday that London-based businessman Victor Dahdaleh made "corrupt payments" of over 40 million pounds ($63 million) to the former chairman and chief executive of a Bahraini aluminium smelter to secure contracts worth over $3 billion for companies including U.S. group Alcoa.

Dahdaleh, 70, who holds dual Canadian and British citizenship, has pleaded not guilty to the seven charges of corruption and one of transferring criminal property which were brought by Britain's Serious Fraud Office.

Britain's top fraud agency has a lot at stake in the trial after a series of setbacks in other cases and because of the scale of the allegations.

The accusations of high-level corruption in Bahrain, between 1998 and 2006, also come at a sensitive time for the Gulf state, a Western ally whose Sunni ruling dynasty has been dogged by sporadic protests by the Shi'ite majority.

Dahdaleh's lawyer made no comment on Tuesday and the defence will be presented later in the trial.

Prosecutor Philip Shears told the jury that Dahdaleh's defence would be that the payments were "sponsorship" in line with Bahraini "custom and practice".

"This case is about corruption. It is corruption, as we will suggest, on a very large scale," Shears said. "The rewards to Mr. Dahdaleh were enormous."

The businessman was accused of having made hundreds of millions of dollars by acting as a middleman between the then chairman of smelter Alba - a member of Bahrain's royal family - and a number of supplier companies, including Alcoa.   Continued...