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UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) Drops High-Profile Corruption Case

The trial of Victor Dahdaleh in London has collapsed due to the absence of key prosecution witnesses.

The UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) recently dropped its case against Victor Dahdaleh, the British-Canadian billionaire accused of paying more than £35 million in bribes to Sheikh Isa bin Ali al-Khalifa of Bahrain. The SFO alleged that the payments were made in return for aluminium supply contracts, worth $3 billion, between Alba, Bahrain’s state-controlled aluminium smelter, and companies represented by Mr Dahdaleh.

The alleged offences were committed prior to the inception of the UK’s Bribery Act 2010, and the SFO therefore sought a conviction under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906. Mr Dahdaleh relied on a defence of “principal’s consent” on the basis that the payments were known to and approved by Alba and the Bahraini government and that the payments amounted to typical Bahraini custom and practice. Such a defence is no longer available under the Bribery Act 2010 regime.

During cross-examination at trial, counsel for the SFO conceded that the SFO was unable to offer evidence against Mr Dahdaleh and that, consequently, there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction. The lack of evidence arose due to the unavailability of key witnesses, namely lawyers to whose firm the SFO had “delegated” certain aspects of its Bahraini investigation. While conducting enquiries in Bahrain for the SFO, the same law firm was also instructed by Alba to bring civil proceedings against Mr Dahdaleh in the United States.

The SFO is now reportedly seeking a costs order against Mr Dahdaleh’s former lawyers, whilst Mr Dahdeleh is seeking costs from lawyers appointed by the SFO to act in Bahrain.


The Dahdaleh trial is the most recent of several cases in which the SFO has failed to secure high-profile convictions, including that of property magnate Vincent Tchenguiz in 2012. The outcomes of those cases may reduce the SFO’s confidence when deciding to bring all but the most clear-cut high-profile prosecutions in future.

More generally, the Dahdaleh case demonstrates the importance of ensuring the availability of key witnesses to give live evidence in white collar criminal proceedings. In particular, parties—whether prosecuting or defending—should satisfy themselves at the time of instruction that their lawyers are prepared to give evidence if the need arises.

Copyright © 2017 by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. All Rights Reserved.


About this Author

Kevin Robinson, Litigation Attorney, Morgan Lewis, UK, Law Firm

Kevin Robinson is a partner in Morgan Lewis’s Litigation Practice. Kevin focuses his practice on providing advice related to investigations of commercial activity by frontline regulators and defending enforcement actions or prosecutions that may arise from those investigations. He regularly counsels clients on matters involving Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigations and/or prosecutions; bribery and corruption, including the UK Bribery Act; Office of Fair Trading (OFT) investigations, including investigations and prosecutions for cartel activity under the Enterprise Act 2002; and...

Nicholas Greenwood, Morgan Lewis Law Firm, Litigation attorney

Nicholas "Nick" Greenwood is a partner in Morgan Lewis's Litigation Practice. Nick focuses his practice on commercial disputes work involving litigation and arbitration in industries that include private equity, banking and financial services, insurance and reinsurance, property development, and shipping. He has worked on matters involving the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA), the ICC, and under the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) rules, in addition to handling cases in the Commercial Court, the Chancery Division of the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court (formerly the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords) in London. Nick has also represented clients in high-value international joint venture, construction, and energy disputes, and most recently has been involved in a number of private equity fund disputes. He has experience obtaining freezing orders and anti-suit injunctions, including obtaining ancillary injunctions in overseas jurisdictions. In addition, Nick regularly manages cross-border disputes in jurisdictions such as Belgium, Canada, China, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Puerto Rico, and Switzerland, among others.

+44 (0)20 3201 5570
Adam Wallin, Litigation, Mediation, Attorney, Morgan Lewis, Law Firm

Adam Wallin is an associate in Morgan Lewis's Litigation Practice. Adam has experience advising clients involved in litigation, mediation, and arbitration, and his practice covers a range of international commercial disputes.

Since joining Morgan Lewis from another international law firm in 2012, Adam’s work has focussed predominantly on insurance/reinsurance and aviation litigation in the Commercial Court in London. Adam also has experience advising clients on eDisclosure issues.