A&O hit with allegations of witness interference

Norton Rose Fulbright has replaced Allen & Overy (A&O) on a criminal corruption trial after partners from the magic circle firm allegedly intefered with a witness.

At a hearing of an ongoing corruption trial at Southwark Crown Court against Canadian-British businessman Victor Dahdaleh yesterday, the SFO alleged that A&O partners interfered with a prosecution witness and prevented an earlier trial taking place, according to a Financial Times (FT) report.

Norton Rose Fulbright partner Neil O’May is now representing Dahdaleh, who faces eight counts of corruption, conspiracy and money laundering in the claim brought by the SFO. The firm instructed Cloth Fair Chambers’ Nicholas Purnell QC, leading set-mate Jonathan Barnard, in April.

7 Bedford Row Chambers’ Philip Shears QC is representing the SFO, instructed by in-house lawyers.

A&O partners David Esseks – a former assistant US attorney – and litigator Peter Watson were accused of piling pressure on Mahmood Al-Kooheji, chairman of the Bahraini state-controlled company at the heart of the case, and trying to persuade him not to appear for the prosecution, according to the FT.

The two lawyers and Dahdaleh allegedly turned up at a meeting with the witness four days before the April hearing was due to start and applied “substantial pressure” on Al-Kooheji. The April meeting in London was part of a week of conferences between Dahdaleh’s Bahraini lawyer, Hatim Zu’bi, and Akin Gump, the company’s lawyers.

The court heard that Al-Kooheji and Akin Gump agreed to a meeting with the A&O partners but were surprised when Dahdaleh arrived as well. According to the FT, the court was told that Esseks allegedly “misled” Akin Gump as to the meeting’s purpose and that Watson had suggested Al-Kooheji had evidence that would prove the Bahrain government knew of Dahdaleh’s payments, which is a key defence to bribery.

The firm was then taken off the case and replaced by Norton Rose Fulbright.

Al-Kooheji is due to give evidence next week for the SFO, which is prosecuting Dahdaleh for the alleged payment of £40m of bribes to win $3bn of contracts for companies he represented.

A spokesperson for Norton Rose Fulbright confirmed the firm was acting and said it had no further comment.

Dahdaleh denies the charges. The trial continues.