x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Bahrain court: Al Gosaibi documents not forged

Signatures are ruled to be genuine in case of Saudi group alleged to have faked ailing chairman's signature to commit fraud.

A Bahraini tribunal has ruled key documents in the Middle East's most serious corporate scandal of recent years were not forged, as has been alleged. Lawyers working for Ahmad Hamad Al Gosaibi and Brothers, the Saudi Arabian conglomerate, have alleged that Maan al Sanea, a Saudi billionaire, forged signatures on financial documents to commit a US$10 billion (Dh36.72bn) fraud against the group.

Al Gosaibi claimed the signatures on three financial documents - two credit facility letters and one guarantee agreement - were not signed by Suleiman Hamad al Gosaibi, the late chairman of the family conglomerate, but were forgeries. The documents were all dated June 29 2008. Mr al Sanea has consistently denied the allegations. The recently formed Bahrain chamber for dispute resolution (BCDR) ruled at the end of last month there was no evidence to show the signatures were not genuine.

"The tribunal is satisfied ? the signatures which are alleged to be forged are actually genuine and written under the hand of the deceased, Suleiman Hamad Ahmad al Gosaibi, and the tribunal concludes from the circumstances of the case, and the papers submitted thereon, that there are no merits to support the allegation of forgery," the BCDR ruled. The ruling represents a reverse for the al Gosaibi family in its legal actions against Mr al Sanea and his company, the Saad Group.

Forgery allegations have been a key part of Al Gosaibi's case against Mr al Sanea. It alleged he had forged the financial documents as the former chairman was terminally ill and undergoing medical treatment. The claims were supported by the accounting firm Deloitte, which investigated the allegations on behalf of Al Gosaibi and hired a specialist graphologist, the UK-based Dr Audrey Giles, who found there was evidence of forgery.

The tribunal decision came as a result of an action by Bank Muscat International (BMI), part of Oman's Bank Muscat, which is seeking $25 million it claims it is owed by Al Gosaibi from 2008. Last year Bank Muscat said it had a total exposure of $171.4m to the Al Gosaibi-Saad scandal. Al Gosaibi plans to fight the decision and could take the issue to Bahrain's Court of Cassation, its highest judicial body.

A spokesman for the conglomerate said: "The evidence of forgery in the documents is incontrovertible. Moreover the forged signatures of Suleiman al Gosaibi are directly traceable to documents that Mr al Sanea has admitted are in his possession. "[Al Gosaibi] is disappointed that this evidence was not examined by the tribunal but is confident that, when this evidence is examined on appeal, [Al Gosaibi] will prevail."

The BCDR is a new body formed to handle complex financial cases. It is part of the country's official legal system and its decisions can be appealed to other courts. The case between BMI and Al Gosaibi is its first. The year-long dispute between the al Gosaibis and Mr al Sanea, who married into the family, has left international creditors with as much as $20bn of unpaid debts from the two groups.

It has caused millions of dollars of write-offs throughout the region, including the UAE. A committee of inquiry set up by Saudi financial authorities with representatives from the interior ministry has been studying the case for the past nine months. The case has sparked a spate of legal actions in the Middle East, the US, Europe and the Cayman Islands, where the Saad Group is based. Last month an American congressman, Peter King, called on the US attorney general to investigate allegations of money laundering by parties involved in the dispute.

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