Family of Petrofac founder hits back over bribery case

Widow of Maroun Semaan says she has not been contacted by anti-corruption investigators

The family of the late co-founder of oil services company Petrofac has hit out at British fraud investigators after the businessman was named in a bribery case about securing contracts in the Middle East.

Maroun Semaan, who died in 2017, was among a group of Petrofac employees accused of working with a British executive in a plot to pay off officials for contracts worth more than $4 billion (Dh14.69bn).

Briton David Lufkin this month pleaded guilty to 11 charges of bribery that influenced the awarding of contracts worth more than $730 million in one country and more than $3.5bn in another, the Serious Fraud Office said.

Lufkin will be sentenced at a London court over the corrupt payments that amounted to more than $50m.

But the agency’s identification of other officials has angered the family of Mr Semaan when he was “no longer alive to defend himself, let alone take any legal recourse”.

Mr Semaan co-founded Petrofac International in 1991 with Ayman Asfari, the group’s chief executive. Mr Asfari was arrested in 2017 over bribery allegations but released without charge.

Mr Asfari is not named in the court document supplied by the fraud office, but the agency has linked Semaan to six of the charges admitted by Lufkin.

The agency said that its investigation showed that Petrofac’s use of agents in jurisdictions including some Middle Eastern countries was continuing.

It said no decision had been made on whether any person or Jersey-based Petrofac subsidiary identified in the Lufkin charge sheet would face criminal proceedings.

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“I have been forced to address allegations publicly regarding my late husband, Maroun Semaan,” said his widow, Tania Semaan.

Ms Semaan said that the agency was responsible for circulating documents “asserting that my husband and a number of other individuals were involved in acts of bribery by a confessedly corrupt oil executive.

“Our family’s lawyer has received assurances from the UK courts that  no publicly available court documents name Maroun in relation to these allegations.

“The SFO has made no effort whatsoever to contact me to inform me of their intentions to spread these distressing allegations.”

The office said it was “fairly normal practice” to identify people who had not been formally accused of a crime on the charge sheet of another defendant.

The purpose is to ensure that defendants know the exact nature of the charges against them, the agency said.

The agency started its inquiry in 2017 as part of a wider investigation into Monaco oil and gas consultancy Unaoil.

After Lufkin’s guilty plea, Petrofac said no current board member was involved. Petrofac, which has 12,750 employees, builds facilities for the oil and gas industry.

It last year set up a $5m fund in memory of Semaan at the American University of Beirut, where he studied and was on the board of trustees.