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US: Alcoa lawsuit halted so federal criminal probe can continue

by Associated PressInternational Herald Tribune
March 28th, 2008

PITTSBURGH: A civil lawsuit accusing Alcoa Inc. and affiliates of bribing officials in the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain will be temporarily halted so that U.S. investigators can conduct a criminal investigation of the aluminum maker.

U.S. District Judge Donetta W. Ambrose on Thursday granted a request by the Justice Department to halt the lawsuit that accuses the Pittsburgh-based company of bribing the officials through secretive shell companies in Asia and Europe.

The allegations "could be relevant to the government's criminal investigation and a potential criminal trial," federal prosecutors said in court documents filed last week.

Aluminum Bahrain BSC, also known as Alba and controlled by the Bahrain government, is seeking more than $1 billion (д630 million) in damages, according to the lawsuit filed last month in Pittsburgh.
Alba, which operates one of the world's largest aluminum smelters, and Alcoa had agreed to the Justice Department's request to put the civil case on hold.

"Alba is certainly pleased that the criminal investigation will not be disrupted by the civil discovery. But we look forward to proceeding in the U.S. District Court as soon as the criminal case is completed," Alba spokesman Seth Levin said in an e-mail.

Alcoa spokesman Kevin Lowery has said the company will cooperate with investigators. He also said a review done by Alcoa found no wrongdoing and the company planned to vigorously defend the lawsuit.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment Friday.

Alba has been an Alcoa customer for about three decades and buys most of its alumina - a material used to make aluminum - from the company.

Alba's lawsuit alleges Alcoa and its affiliates violated mail and wire fraud statutes and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, among other laws.
Alcoa, the world's third-largest aluminum producer, reported revenue in 2007 of $30.75 billion, an all-time record.

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