By all accounts, Victor Dahdaleh is well connected.
A Canadian based in London, he is credited with revitalizing the once staid Canada-United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce, helping attract an impressive list of high-profile speaking guests that has included former U.S. presidents, British prime ministers and the head of Canada's largest financial institution.
As president of the chamber, a business networking forum for expatriates, Mr. Dahdaleh is among the better-recognized Canadians in the city.
Diminutive in stature, he is a major philanthropist and fundraiser. Those who have met him describe him as gregarious, convivial and "the life of the party."
These days, however, Mr. Dahdaleh is facing sensational allegations of bribery and a "massive, outrageous fraud" totalling hundreds of millions of dollars.
The accusations have been levelled against him and U.S. aluminum giant Alcoa Inc. in a lawsuit seeking more than $1-billion (U.S.) in damages. Now, the U.S. Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into the matter.
In court documents, Mr. Dahdaleh is portrayed as a conduit or middleman for a series of questionable business deals between one of the world's largest metals companies and a state-owned aluminum firm based in the Middle East.
None of the allegations have been proved and Mr. Dahdaleh has vowed to fight them.
At the heart of the scandal are agreements between Pittsburgh's Alcoa and Aluminium Bahrain BSC.
Known as Alba, Aluminium Bahrain is a state-controlled aluminum producer in the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain.
Under contracts that began in 1990, Alcoa agreed to supply alumina - the raw material needed to make aluminum - to Alba for use at its natural-gas-powered smelters.
In a lawsuit filed by Alba in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania and in a motion filed by the Justice Department seeking a delay in the case and disclosing the criminal investigation, Mr. Dahdaleh is alleged to have acted as an agent for Alcoa and helped facilitate the contracts, as well as bribes to Bahrain officials that caused Alba to overpay for the alumina.
Alcoa, the suit claims, assigned the supply contracts to several "front companies" set up by Mr. Dahdaleh, based in various jurisdictions including Singapore, the British Virgin Islands and Switzerland.
"These assignments served no legitimate business purpose and were used as a means to secretly pay bribes and unlawful commissions as part of a scheme to defraud Alba," the lawsuit alleges.
Court documents claim that Alba's payments were made to Dahdaleh-controlled companies even though Alcoa was believed by the plaintiffs to be supplying the alumina. In one case, Alcoa's logo was used in a letter to Alba and the lawsuit alleges that attempts were made to "obscure the nature of the Dahdaleh-controlled entity that was Alba's supplier," the suit said.
E-mails to and from an Alcoa executive quoted in the claim suggest that Mr. Dahdaleh's role is concealed from certain Alba officials and Alcoa employees.
"Just for proper form, I don't make Victor's activities on behalf of [a recipient of Defendants' bribes] knowledgeable to the plant hence I have removed references to him from your e-mail before forwarding it to others," an e-mail to the Alcoa executive said.
In a response e-mail, the Alcoa executive said the host of a planned visit to an Alcoa facility in Tennessee by Alba officials "is also not aware of Victor's role so we should not get into any misunderstandings."
None of the allegations have been proven in court. Mr. Dahdaleh declined to be interviewed. In a statement issued through a spokesman, the 63-year-old vowed to fight the charges.
"Victor Dahdaleh is saddened and disappointed by the current allegations against him. While he cannot comment on specific legal issues related to those allegations, he will be vigorously contesting them," the statement said.
Mr. Dahdaleh is believed to have been born in Jordan, but he grew up in Canada, spending his youth in both Montreal and Toronto, where he still has family.
He is the owner and chairman of Dadco Group , a privately owned investment, manufacturing and trading group founded in 1915 by his grandfather.
Today, Dadco has operations and investments in Europe, North America, the Middle East, Africa and Australia. It owns an alumina refinery in Stade, Germany, having purchased a 50-per-cent stake in the operation from Alcoa in 2001 for an undisclosed price. Competition authorities had ordered Alcoa to sell the stake to win regulatory approval for its takeover of Reynolds Metals Co.
In 2004, Dadco paid Norway's Norsk Hydro $110-million (U.S.) for the remaining 50 per cent of the alumina refinery in Germany and a 10-per-cent stake in a bauxite mining joint venture in Guinea with Alcoa and Canada's Alcan. (Alcan is now part of Rio Tinto PLC).
A resident of central London's exclusive Belgravia neighbourhood, Mr. Dahdaleh has, according to industry sources, been a prominent fixture at aluminum sector gatherings and is a board member of the International Aluminium Institute.
"He is a well-known character, and if you went to any of the aluminum industry association meetings, he would be there," a former industry executive said.
He also holds several prominent positions with charitable and non-profit organizations. Last year, he was made an honorary fellow at the London School of Economics where he has been a governor for more than eight years.
He is also a member of the school's fundraising committee and the honorary president and chairman of the LSE's Advisory Board for the Centre for the Study of Global Governance.
According to the LSE's website, Mr. Dahdaleh has been an active promoter of the school around the world and has secured significant donations from various foundations to support specific programs.
He is also a trustee of former U.S. president Bill Clinton's charitable arm, the Clinton Foundation, and a member of the Clinton Global Initiative that meets once a year to discuss the foundation's goals.
He even has his own charity - the Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Charitable Foundation - which grants scholarships to needy students.
As well, he is a trustee of the McGill University Trust, which offers scholarships to British students attending the Montreal institution.
His most public work, however, has been as the president of the Canada-U.K. Chamber of Commerce for the past four years.
Chamber board member Rob Brant, a managing partner at McCarthy Tétrault in London, said Mr. Dahdaleh has been the "driving force" behind the organization's resurgence.
"He has single-handedly brought that group back to life and brought a string of very impressive speakers. He has helped raise a lot of money for the Chamber and for good causes through his contacts," Mr. Brant said.
Mr. Dahdaleh is credited with persuading both Mr. Clinton and former British prime minister Tony Blair to speak to the chamber. Mr. Blair directly referred to Mr. Dahdaleh in a speech delivered to the group in October, 2006.
"Victor, as you know, is very influential in the Global Initiative of President Clinton. The whole purpose of that is to say that in a world in which things are increasingly interdependent, where what happens in one part of the world affects another, then the idea of global co-operation as a response to globalization is an absolutely necessary part of making the future work for us," Mr. Blair said.
Nigel Bacon, the chamber's executive director, said the group's membership has doubled since Mr. Dahdaleh was elected president in 2004.
Mr. Dahdaleh has been the chamber's longest-serving president.
The accusations facing Mr. Dahdaleh have not been raised by chamber members, Mr. Bacon said. However, Mr. Dahdaleh is unlikely to stand for re-election as president at the chamber's annual general meeting in May.
"We have been talking about identifying a successor to the presidency for at least the last year as to who could step up to the plate. I would expect he would wish to stand down at this next AGM," Mr. Bacon said.
Mr. Dahdaleh also appears to still have connections to Canada's banking system. Court documents show that after the Alba payments were made to the offshore companies controlled by Mr. Dahdaleh, some of the funds ended up in accounts at Royal Bank of Canada in New York.
According to the suit, invoices from a Dahdaleh-controlled company instructed Alba to make wire transfers to a trust company in New York for "credit to an account held at Royal Bank of Canada."
The suit alleges "Alba has to date made approximately 80 such payments, most for more than $15-million each."
An RBC spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter, citing client confidentiality.
The bank's president and chief executive officer, Gordon Nixon, addressed the Canada-U.K. Chamber of Commerce in April, 2006.