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Monday
Nov142011

Alba's Suit Against Alcoa Reopened

The Wall Street Journal's Joe Palazzolo reported Friday that Aluminum Bahrain BSC's civil suit against Alcoa has been reopened, and that Alcoa will ask that it be dismissed.

Alba, as state-owned Aluminum Bahrain BSC is known, filed the suit in 2008 in federal court in Alcoa's hometown, Pittsburgh. The suit accused Alcoa of a 15-year conspiracy of overcharging, fraud, and bribery. The suit alleged that more than $2 billion in Alba's payments under raw-material supply contracts passed from Bahrain to tiny companies in Singapore, Switzerland and the Isle of Guernsey, and that some of the money was then used to bribe Bahraini officials involved in granting the contracts.

Alba's federal lawsuit was based not on the FCPA but on common law fraud and RICO -- the Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act found at 18 U.S.C. §§1961-68. Private parties have no right of action under the FCPA; only the DOJ and SEC can enforce it.

Three weeks after Alba filed the suit, the judged stayed it at the request of the DOJ. Prosecutors said the United States had a "direct and substantial interest" in Alba's allegations and that the civil suit could threaten the DOJ's criminal investigation.

At the time, a spokesperson for Alcoa said, "We will cooperate fully with the DOJ and believe this will help bring this matter to a speedy conclusion."

The DOJ said it was investigating whether Alcoa, its executives, and agents "have engaged in conduct with respect to their commercial relationship with Alba in alleged violation of various criminal laws, including the FCPA, and the mail and wire fraud statutes. . . . The Alba complaint alleges numerous facts which, if true, could be relevant to the government's criminal investigation and a potential criminal trial."

Bahrain's own investigation, according to 2008 reports, centered on Sheikh Isa bin Ali al-Khalifa, the country's former minister of petroleum and chairman of Alba, and on Jordan-born Canadian businessman Victor Dahdaleh, who acted as Alcoa's agent in Bahrain.

Last month, Dahdaleh, who lives in London, was arrested there and charged under U.K. law for bribing officials at Alba. The alleged payments were made in 2001 to 2005, the Serious Fraud Office said, in connection with contracts between Alcoa and Alba for supplies of alumina shipped to Bahrain from Australia.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Alcoa asked for the civil suit in the U.S. to be reopened so that it can make a motion to dismiss it.

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