Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Former Unaoil group manager sentenced to 5 years over $55m Iraq oil deal

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A former Unaoil Group manager was sentenced to five years in prison in the U.K. after he was found guilty of conspiring to bribe public officials in Iraq to secure a $55 million contract there, the U.K.’s white-collar-crime prosecuting agency said Thursday.

Ziad Akle, a 45-year-old former Iraq territory manager for the oil-services company, was convicted last week on two counts of conspiracy to give corrupt payments.

A lawyer representing Mr. Akle didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. His lawyers have said he plans to appeal the conviction over what they described as concerns about the conduct of prosecutors with the Serious Fraud Office involved in the case.

Prosecutors said Mr. Akle played a role in paying more than $500,000 in bribes to secure a contract to supply offshore mooring buoys in Iraq that would benefit Monaco-based Unaoil and its clients.

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“The offenses were committed across borders at a time of serious need for the government of Iraq to rebuild after years of sanctions and the devastation of war,” Judge Martin Beddoe said at Mr. Akle’s sentencing, according to the SFO. “They were utterly exploitative at a time when the economic and political situation in Iraq was extremely fragile.”

Stephen Whiteley, another former Unaoil manager found guilty last week on one count of conspiracy to give corrupt payments in the case, will be sentenced on a later date, the SFO said.

Mr. Whiteley plans to appeal his conviction, said Sam Healey, a partner at JMW Solicitors LLP. “This case has cast a shadow over Stephen’s life for almost four years,” Mr. Healey said in a statement Thursday. “[Mr. Whiteley] has cooperated fully with the SFO as they continued their investigation.”

The convictions of Messrs. Akle and Whiteley followed a July 2019 guilty plea by Basil al Jarah, another former Unaoil manager, to five counts of conspiracy to give corrupt payments. Mr. al Jarah admitted to paying bribes totaling more than $6 million to secure contracts in Iraq worth $800 million to supply oil pipelines and offshore mooring buoys, the SFO said. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 8.

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A representative for Unaoil and a lawyer representing Mr. al Jarah didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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