Former Unaoil executive sentenced over $1.7bn Iraq bribery plot

Basil Al Jarah is third man sentenced after five-year corruption inquiry

A U.S. soldier watches as a statue of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein falls in central Baghdad in this April 9, 2003 file photo. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic  AS/CRB
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A former executive at Monaco and gas consultancy Unaoil was sentenced in London to three years and four months in jail on Thursday for bribing Iraqi officials to clinch $1.7 billion of oil projects.

Basil Al Jarah, Unaoil's former Iraq manager, admitted to paying $17 million in bribes to secure contracts to build pipelines, an oil platform and offshore mooring buoys in the Arabian Gulf, as the war-torn nation tries to shore up its battered economy.

It is the third sentence by a London judge after a five-year inquiry by the Serious Fraud Office and the US into how the Ahsani family, who ran Unaoil, secured energy contracts for blue-chip clients in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.

Former Unaoil managers Stephen Whiteley, 55, and Ziad Akle, 45, had already been sentenced to three and five years in jail after a London trial.

"This was a classic case of corruption, where powerful men took advantage of the desperation and vulnerability of others to line their own pockets," fraud office head Lisa Osofsky said.

John Milner, Al Jarah's lawyer, said he was disappointed the court had not agreed to a suspended sentence.

Mr Milner said the court chose to ignore the owners of Unaoil who were "unlikely to share Mr Al Jarah's fate".

The investigation originally centred on the Ahsanis.

But failed extradition attempts ended in a clash in Italy with US prosecutors over the extradition of Saman Ahsani in 2018, foiling the agency's attempts to prosecute them in Britain.

British prosecutors said Iraqi-born Al Jarah, 71, British-Lebanese Akle and Whiteley, who is British, conspired with others to bribe public officials at Iraq's South Oil Company and, in Al Jarah's case, the Iraqi Ministry of Oil.

Akle and Whiteley denied wrongdoing. Al Jarah pleaded guilty to five offences in 2019 and asked for further offences to be taken into consideration at his sentencing on Thursday.

Whiteley and Akle, who were found guilty of conspiring to pay more than $500,000 in bribes to win a $55m oil contract, plan to appeal against their convictions, their lawyers say.

Paul Bond, 68, a former sales manager for then Unaoil client SBM Offshore, faces a retrial in January after the jury could not reach a verdict.

Brothers Cyrus and Saman Ahsani, Unaoil's British-Iranian former chief executive and chief operating officer, await sentencing in the US after pleading guilty to bribery in 2019.

Their father, Ata Ahsani, has not been prosecuted.