BUSINESS

Billionaire businessman to appear in UK court charged in massive bribery case

01/13/2012 07:18 EST | Updated 03/14/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - Canadian-British billionaire Victor Dahdaleh, who faced bribery charges in court Friday, has rubbed shoulders with royalty, palled around with senior politicians and run a successful business empire whose interests stretched from Switzerland to Singapore.

But the 68-year-old tycoon appeared before a British court charged in connection to a large-scale fraud allegedly perpetrated against Aluminum Bahrain BSC, known as Alba. The state-owned aluminum smelter claims that Dahdaleh and others bribed senior officials into systematically overpaying for millions of tons of raw material in what it described as a "massive, outrageous fraud."

Dahdaleh did not enter a plea and the next hearing was set for March 2. His lawyers have denied any wrongdoing and promised to fight the charges.

The specifics of the British charges against Dahdaleh haven't been released, but a lawsuit filed against Dahdaleh and aluminum giant Alcoa Inc. in Pennsylvania alleges that he was at the heart of a scheme to infiltrate Alba through bribery, directing corrupt officials to funnel funds to companies controlled by him or his associates in Australia, Singapore and Switzerland.

Alba says that the conspiracy cost it millions in overpayments. The claim is on hold while authorities pursue their criminal inquiry.

The court appearance punctuates a remarkable career for the international dealmaker, who served as a trustee of the Clinton Foundation, lunched with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and attended a reception with Queen Elizabeth II.

Dahdaleh is the chairman and owner of metals and chemicals firm Dadco, a company whose history stretches back to 1915, and has been active in politics on both sides of the Atlantic. He is listed as a donor to the William J. Clinton Foundation, and in Britain, he's made donations to the centre-left Institute for Public Policy Research and the Policy Network, whose president is former Business Secretary Peter Mandelson.

He has also contributed to the London School of Economics, where he supports scholarships and holds the honorific title of governor, and McGill University in Montreal, where he served as a board member of the University Trust.

Dahdaleh also served as the past president of the Canada-United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce, and it was in that capacity that he won a place at the table when the queen and her husband Prince Philip came for dinner at the Canadian High Commission in London in 2005.

When he was arrested last year, friends and relatives of the billionaire, including senior executives from Credit Suisse and British energy company BP, offered roughly 1.42 million pounds ($2.17 million) in sureties. Dahdaleh personally paid a 10 million pound ($15.3 million) bond.