Wednesday, April 21, 2021

British businessmen stand trial for paying $6 million bribes to win oil contracts in Iraq


Three British businessmen conspired to pay bribes totalling $6m (£4.6m) to win huge contracts in the oil industry, a court has heard.

The trio are accused of using the bribes to secure contracts worth $800m to rebuild the run-down Iraqi oil industry after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

At London’s Southwark crown court on Thursday, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) opened its prosecution of the three men following a three-year investigation into alleged corruption in the energy industry.

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The investigation centred on a Monaco-based oil and gas consultancy called Unaoil.

The SFO’s QC, Michael Brompton, told the court that Unaoil bribed Iraqi officials to help a Dutch-based energy firm, SBM, and a Singapore company, Leighton Offshore, to secure the contracts between 2005 and 2013.

He alleged that “after a long process of manoeuvring and manipulation”, SBM, with the assistance of Unaoil, had won a large contract to supply moorings for oil tankers. Unaoil helped Leighton Offshore to win another large contract to build pipelines, he alleged.

The three men have pleaded not guilty. They are Ziad Akle, 44, Unaoil’s territory manager for Iraq, Stephen Whiteley, 64, who was a vice-president at SBM until 2009 before joining Unaoil as its manager for Iraq, and Paul Bond, 67, SBM’s sales manager for the Middle East. Akle has dual British and Lebanese nationality.

Brompton told Judge Martin Beddoe that Unaoil had bribed senior officials at the Iraqi Ministry of Oil to secure the two contracts.

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“In all Unaoil paid bribes totalling approximately $6m in order to secure the two contracts, together worth approximately $800m,” Brompton said. He told the jury Unaoil was paid for its help in landing the contracts.

The three businessmen have been charged with conspiring to pay the bribes with three members of the Ahsani family who controlled Unaoil. Ata Ahsani had founded Unaoil, and his sons, Cyrus and Saman, held senior positions within the firm. They are not defendants in this trial.

Brompton said: “This case concerns bribery and corruption connected to the reconstruction of the Iraqi oil industry in the years following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

“By the time of Saddam’s overthrow, the infrastructure required for the successful production and distribution of crude oil was old and dilapidated. Plans were made by the Iraqi Ministry of Oil to hugely increase the country’s oil producing capacity.”

The trial, expected to last three months, continues.


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