Friday, October 23, 2020

SFO drops investigation into trio accused of energy industry bribes

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Prosecutors have dropped a criminal investigation into three businessmen who had been accused of paying huge bribes in the energy industry, sources with knowledge of the inquiry have said.

The Serious Fraud Office had been investigating claims that Unaoil, a firm formerly owned and controlled by its chairman Ata Ahsani and his sons Cyrus and Saman, paid multimillion-pound bribes to land contracts in the oil and gas industry.

On Tuesday, the SFO declined to say why its investigation into the trio had been dropped.

The termination of the investigation comes as the SFO faces renewed criticism for closing corruption investigations into large multinational firms and its failure to convict business executives.

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Last year, the SFO charged four Unaoil employees with conspiring to make corrupt payments to secure contracts in Iraq. The SFO’s prosecution of these employees continues.

The SFO issued summonses against Unaoil as a corporate body over allegations of conspiracy to give corrupt payments. It is unclear if these summonses are still in operation.

The investigation by the SFO into alleged bribery and money laundering by Unaoil and its employees opened in 2016 after a leak of thousands of the firm’s emails to journalists at Australia’s Fairfax media. Police in Monaco raided Unaoil’s headquarters at the SFO’s request.

The first charges from the investigation – against the four employees – came in 2017. Their trial is scheduled to begin in January 2020.

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The halting of the Unaoil investigation was first reported by compliance industry newsletter MLex on Tuesday. The SFO said it could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

The Ahsani family and Unaoil declined to comment. Unaoil has consistently denied involvement in bribery, calling the allegations “malicious and damaging”.

Last year, the SFO said it was seeking the extradition of Saman Ahsani, the 43-year-old commercial director of Unaoil, from his home in Monaco. He had not been charged with any offence and it is understood that a warrant for his extradition has been withdrawn.

In February, the SFO was criticised by anti-corruption campaigners after it closed its investigation into alleged bribery by Rolls-Royce employees. On the same day, it announced that it was closing down another investigation alleged corruption by Britain’s biggest drug-maker, GSK.

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