Iraq's oil revenue was seen to be pivotal in rebuilding the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 © Mario Tama/Getty Images
Iraq's oil revenue was seen to be pivotal in rebuilding the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 © Mario Tama/Getty Images

Unaoil 'paid $6m bribes to secure Iraqi oil contracts'

posted by Charlie Hart
28 January 2020

Energy consultancy Unaoil paid $6m in bribes to help its clients secure contracts to build oil pipelines and terminals in Iraq, a London court has heard. 

The UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) alleged bribes were made to Iraqi officials to secure two contracts worth a total of $800m to help rebuild the country’s oil industry following the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Two former Unaoil managers, Ziad Akle and Stephen Whiteley, and Paul Bond, a former sales manager at energy services firm SBM – a client of Unaoil – face charges of conspiracy to make corrupt payments at a trial at Southwark Crown Court.

The trio have been accused of plotting to skew a tender process for oil projects between 2005 and 2011. They all deny the charges. 

In 2016, the SFO began a criminal investigation into “activities of Unaoil, its officers, its employees and its agents in connection with suspected offences of bribery, corruption and money laundering”.

It charged Akle, Whiteley, Bond and Basil Al Jarah, Unaoil’s Iraq partner, with conspiracy to make corrupt payments to secure the award of contracts to SBM the following year. 

In May 2018, the SFO brought further charges against Al Jarah and Akle for securing the award of a contract worth $733m to Leighton Contractors Singapore for a project to build two oil pipelines in southern Iraq.

A month later, Unaoil was summonsed for two offences of conspiracy to give corrupt payments. 

In July 2019, Al Jarah pleaded guilty to the charges. 

Michael Brompton, prosecutor for the SFO, told the court Unaoil helped to ensure SBM and Leighton won contracts by manipulating tenders and bribing senior Iraqi officials, according to Reuters.

“The purpose ... was to ensure that the tender documents..., the technical specifications and design documents suited the company that Unaoil wished to align itself with ... suited that company and disadvantaged their competitors,” he said.

After “a long process of maneuvering and manipulation”, SBM won a large contract to supply moorings for oil tankers, while Leighton Offshore won another large contract to build pipelines, he continued.

“In all, Unaoil paid bribes totalling approximately $6m in order to secure the two contracts, together worth approximately $800m,” he alleged.

The trial is scheduled to last for up to four months. 

In October 2019, three Unaoil executives admitted to their part in paying bribes to officials in nine countries in a trial in the US.

Cyrus and Saman Ahsani, part of the Ahsani family who ran Unaoil, and Stephen Hunter pleaded guilty to conspiring to facilitate bribes on behalf of multinational firms to secure oil and gas contracts.

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