Judge backs SFO on Imam charges: Former BCCI executive will face trial

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AN OLD Bailey judge backed the Serious Fraud Office yesterday by rejecting an attempt by Imran Imam, a former executive of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, to have charges involving dollars 52m against him dropped.

In a pre-trial hearing, Judge Pownall turned down Mr Imam's claim that the SFO had committed an abuse of process. Mr Imam claimed that between 4 September 1991 and 20 March 1992 he was induced to believe that he would be a witness for the Crown concerning the BCCI affair and would not be prosecuted.

Mr Imam had originally volunteered as a witness to the US authorities investigating BCCI. When he came to the UK and was arrested by the SFO on 20 March 1993, he and the Americans believed they had been misled by the British. The judge rejected this contention.

The application has delayed Mr Imam's trial on the six charges of false accounting, which was originally due to start on 28 January 1994. The judge decided yesterday that the trial would start on 11 April, with preparatory hearings set for 14 March.

After the judge had turned down Mr Imam's abuse of powers application, Mr Imam was arraigned on the six charges. He pleaded not guilty to all. Bail conditions remained unaltered. Mr Imam must remain in the UK and report regularly to Edgware police station. There were three sureties totalling pounds 75,000, including pounds 10,000 from Mr Imam's brother.

The case caused friction with the US investigators. Last month John Moscow, the New York assistant district attorney who is jointly leading the BCCI inquiry, spoke in court on behalf of Mr Imam's application. Mr Moscow said that had they known that the SFO would prosecute Mr Imam, they would never have shared confidential Grand Jury evidence with the SFO.

After the hearing Christopher Dickson, the SFO case controller for BCCI, admitted there had been a 'glitch' in the SFO's relationship with the US BCCI investigators over the prosecution of Mr Imam.

However, he insisted that relations with the District Attorney's Office in New York remained close.