London firms watch as Libya bribery trial begins

In Oslo, prosecutors allege the Yara executives allowed or overlooked large payments to Libyans including the son of Muammar Gaddafi’s oil minister

The biggest criminal trial of Western corporate executives accused of bribing Gaddafi-era Libyan officials for contracts got under way this week.

Executives in London who dealt with Libya during the relatively brief period between the Tony Blair-led rapprochement and the revolution have been watching closely the events around the criminal investigation of the Norwegian fertiliser giant Yara International.

Yara has already paid a huge fine over the scandal which, according to prosecutors, saw top executives overlook large payments made to officials and a mysterious company based in a tax haven. This week, four senior bosses pleaded not guilty at an Oslo court in a case scheduled to last three months and which involves charges carrying sentences of up to 10 years.

The Norwegian case kicks off as two civil cases are being prepared in London against Goldman Sachs and Société Générale, in which the banks are being sued by the Libyan Investment Authority for allegedly improperly coercing Libyan officials into investing the impoverished country’s sovereign wealth with them.

The SocGen case sees the bank accused of making millions of dollars in suspect payments to a mysterious company in the offshore haven of Panama. SocGen and Goldman deny the allegations.

In Oslo, prosecutors allege the Yara executives allowed or overlooked large payments to Libyans including the son of Muammar Gaddafi’s oil minister. Whistleblowers were allegedly ignored when they expressed concerns. The defendants are the former chief executive, Thorleif Enger, and three senior executives, American Ken Wallace, Tor Holba and Frenchman Daniel Clauw.

The case promises to see a host of Norway’s senior business people appear as witnesses for the defence and the prosecution.

Meanwhile, US criminal and financial investigators are in the middle of an investigation into the actions of London-based executives at the hedge fund Och-Ziff when they persuaded Libya to invest in their funds. This is said to be examining payments made by a British-based middleman, Mohamad Ali-Ajami, to steer through a deal.

The City of London Police is reportedly looking into the activities of former executives at the London arm of Tradition Financial Services amid lurid allegations that it treated Libyan Investment Authority executives to lavish parties in Morocco. Tradition has said it is the victim of the alleged actions of its former employees.

Canadian and Swiss investigations into the activities of a Canadian engineering giant, ANC Lavalin, secured a conviction of its former head of global construction, Riadh Ben Aissa, for bribing Gaddafi’s playboy son Saadi to win lucrative construction projects. He used what police said was a shell company in the British Virgin Islands set up to funnel the bribes.

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