UK jails manager over Iraq oil bribery probe

Pair were found guilty of paying off Iraqi officials to secure contracts to rebuild Iraq after 2003

Unaoil executives bribed Iraqi officials to secure oil-related contracts after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Reuters
Unaoil executives bribed Iraqi officials to secure oil-related contracts after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Reuters

A former manager at Monaco oil consultancy Unaoil was jailed by a London court for five years on Thursday for his role in bribing Iraqi officials to secure lucrative contracts to rebuild the country after the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein.

British-Lebanese businessman Ziad Akle, 45, was part of a plot to bribe officials at the Iraqi South Oil Company to secure contracts for Unaoil.

The company acted as the middle man for well-known companies vying for lucrative work after the chaos of the US-led war to unseat the dictator.

“The offences 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 a court in Central London.

“They were utterly exploitative at a time when the economic and political situation in Iraq was extremely fragile.”

Mr Akle and Stephen Whiteley, 65, former Unaoil territory managers for Iraq, were convicted by a jury last month of paying more than $500,000 (Dh1.8 million) in bribes to secure a $55m contract to supply offshore moorings that allow tankers to load oil.

Mr Whiteley will be sentenced later along with a third man who has admitted paying bribes of more than $6m.

Prosecutors accused the men of taking advantage of a “government reeling from dictatorship and occupation to cut out competitors and line their own pockets”.

The sentencing of Mr Akle is the latest episode of a long-running saga that has seen the powerful British brothers, who led the company, convicted last year in the US under its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The convictions of Cyrus Ahsani, 51, and Saman Ahsani, 46, followed an extraordinary tug-of-war between prosecutors from the US and UK after the brothers were arrested in Italy in 2018.

Britain’s foremost anti-corruption agency, the Serious Fraud Office, wanted them to stand trial in the UK where they faced significant jail terms and confiscation of their assets.

But the pair cut a deal with the US and admitted last year to conspiring with companies to make corrupt payments of millions of dollars over 17 years from 1999 to government officials in nine countries including Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

Cyrus Ahsani, the former Unaoil chief executive, and Saman Ahsani, once the chief operating officer, laundered the proceeds of the bribery scheme and destroyed evidence to try hide what they had done, prosecutors said.

The pair, who are expected to give evidence against companies in the US in return for lesser punishment, are due to be sentenced this year.

The investigations into Unaoil followed revelations in Australia’s The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers, which secured a leak of hundreds of thousands of internal Unaoil emails.

The newspaper reports sparked other investigations into companies connected with Unaoil.

They included the engineering giant Rolls-Royce, which agreed to pay $800m in 2017 after global bribery investigations with connections to Unaoil.

Updated: July 24, 2020 03:40 AM


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