Akin Gump slammed by SFO over collapse of $67m corruption trial

Akin Gump has been slammed by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) after two US-based partners refused to appear in court as witnesses in the $67m corruption case being pursued against businessman Victor Dahdaleh, contributing to the collapse of the case.

The finger-pointing means the heat has been taken off Dahdaleh’s former counsel, Allen & Overy, which earlier had been accused of witness interference by the SFO (7 November 2013).

The agency had accused the Canadian-British businessman of paying $67m in bribes to the former managers of Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) in order to secure billion-dollar business contracts.

Alba opted to use longstanding adviser Akin Gump to respond to the SFO inquiry, while A&O acted for Dahdaleh. That was until the SFO alleged that New York-based A&O partner David Esseks and London litigator Peter Watson pressurised Alba’s chairman not to appear for the prosecution.

A&O lost the mandate and Norton Rose Fulbright has since been acting for Dahdaleh.

In Southwark Crown court yesterday (10 December) 7 Bedford Row Chambers’ Philip Shears QC, who is representing the SFO, said the withdrawal of key witnesses – two being Alba’s lawyers from Akin Gump – led to the collapse of the high-profile trial. The SFO said Washington-based Akin Gump partners Mark MacDougall and Randy Teslik were unwilling to face cross-examination in court.

A statement made to the court read: “Since last Thursday, yet further contact has taken place with Akin Gump, the lawyers for Aluminium Bahrain, or “Alba”, to secure the attendance of these two American witnesses, Mark MacDougall and Randy Teslik who are both partners in that firm. As you will see from the correspondence, they have attempted to place limits on the extent to which they can be cross-examined.  

”The Serious Fraud Office does not believe it would be appropriate to attempt to persuade the court to agree to such limits nor, given your comments last week, that they should appear via video-link.

”The defence have raised issues questioning Akin Gump’s role in the provision of assistance to the Serious Fraud Office both as to what their motives may have been in the dissemination of material and assistance as to witnesses who could provide relevant information, this in the context, as accepted by the defence, of the Serious Fraud Office acting in good faith.

”The attendance of the two American witnesses would have allowed this aspect of the case to be ventilated before the jury. Their refusal to attend creates a situation where it is clear that the trial process cannot remedy the position and we accept unfairness now exists for the defence.

”In seeking to secure the attendance of these two witnesses – who have previously attended court on every other occasion when their attendance has been required – the Serious Fraud Office has taken every available step, including a direct telephone conversation between the Director of the Serious Fraud Office and the chair of Akin Gump.”

Akin Gump could not be reached for comment at the time of writing.