Unaoil’s former Iraq partner pleads guilty to bribery

Basil Al Jarah, 70, from Hull, pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiring to give corrupt payments to public officials to secure commercial contracts in Iraq at Southwark crown court, London. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 July 2019

Unaoil’s former Iraq partner pleads guilty to bribery

  • It is the first guilty plea to result from a three-year investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into suspected bribery and money laundering
  • Unaoil is a Monaco-based oil and gas firm

LONDON: The former partner in Iraq for Unaoil, a Monaco-based oil and gas consultancy, has pleaded guilty to five counts of bribery in the first conviction in a three-year criminal investigation by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
Basil Al Jarah, 70, pleaded guilty on July 15 to conspiring to give corrupt payments in connection with the award of contracts to supply and install single point moorings and oil pipelines in southern Iraq, the SFO said.
Al Jarah’s conviction, which comes six months before three other defendants in the case face a criminal trial in London, was announced after a judge lifted reporting restrictions in a pre-trial hearing on Friday, the SFO said.
Ziad Akle, Unaoil’s former territory manager for Iraq and Stephen Whiteley and Paul Bond, who worked for Dutch-based oil and gas services company SBM (Offshore), have pleaded not guilty.
Akle, 44, has been charged with three offenses of conspiracy to make corrupt payments. Bond, a 67-year-old former senior sales manager with SBM (Offshore), and Whiteley, a 64-year-old former vice president of SBM (Offshore) and one-time Unaoil general territories manager for Iraq, Kazakhstan and Angola, each face two counts.
Sam Healey, a lawyer at JMW Solicitors who is representing Whiteley, said his client “strenuously denied” all alleged offenses.
“Mr Whiteley co-operated fully with the SFO as they opened their enquiries and will rigorously defend the charges,” he said.
Lawyers for Al Jarah and Bond declined to comment. A lawyer for Akle was not immediately available for comment.
A spokeswoman for Unaoil declined to comment, while SBM Offshore has said it is company policy to not comment on past or current employees.


Down on the farm, Brexit casts its shadow

Updated 5 min 14 sec ago

Down on the farm, Brexit casts its shadow

  • Even with no customs duties to pay, the UK-EU divorce can deliver an unexpected bite

EAST GRINSTEAD, UK: On the face of it, Ellie Woodcock’s organic farm two hours south of London shouldn’t be affected by Britain’s impending departure from the EU.

“We don’t export anything, so that wouldn’t affect my farm. We sell very much directly to the English public and quite locally,” she told AFP.

But even with no customs duties to pay or headaches at the border, Brexit can deliver an unexpected bite.

“I think for the farming community, Brexit will have quite a negative impact,” said Woodcock, who co-manages Brambletye Farm, near East Grinstead, in Sussex.

“The farming community around here really rely on foreign workers, so changes to the legislation and people movement could really affect them.”

“There’s not one positive thing that I can spring out of it, even if I was to twist my mind,” added co-owner Stein Leenders, as he harvested the final fruits of the season.

Brambletye grows apples, pears, raspberries and blackberries, and sells eggs laid by dozens of free-range chickens over its nearly 45 acres of land.

Woodcock, Leenders and their 20-odd employees make or grow virtually everything on site, including fruit purees and bottled juice from a shed housing three busy workers.

“Some of the supplies I might buy from other European countries directly or indirectly through a third party,” said Woodcock.

“One of them would be corks. I also buy mushroom substrate, which comes directly from Holland.”

Such products risk becoming more expensive because of Brexit, which has both made the pound weaker since the 2016 referendum and upped expectations of disruption at the border.

Where Brambletye has opted to focus on a few products, other smallholders bring in fruit from Spain, Portugal and other sunnier European countries to sell during the long rainy winter months.

Fans of organic produce wander among the stalls at The Spread farmers’ market in the trendy Primrose Hill area of London. But the high spirits of the weekend hide a downbeat mood.

“Everything we plant is imported,” said Dave Newton, from Brockmans Farm, at his stall opposite Brambletye’s. “Brexit is going to affect us a lot because prices are going to go up. “Small farms are going to suffer the most.”

Large farms which export most of their produce, and particularly livestock rearers, are facing the threat of financial ruin.

They could see the possible loss of European subsidies and huge customs duties while importers could be given tax free incentives.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen yet in terms of subsidies,” said Mike Norledge, who helps run The Spread.

“A lot of workers have to go back to where they’re from, so that’s a worry,” he added.

Woodcock meanwhile said economic conditions since the landmark Brexit vote have not helped.

“It’s not a particularly glamorous job to pick fruit for eight to 10 hours a day,” she said.

“There was an incentive for workers from poorer countries when the pound was high as they made a lot of money quite quickly.

“With this sometimes xenophobic atmosphere, the big thing with Brexit is do (workers) feel welcome? If they don’t feel welcome and if there’s not a big incentive for the money, then they’re not going to come.”

Woodcock herself only employs locally because she has no facilities to house seasonal workers but has faced great difficulties finding anyone.

“That makes me really worried for other farms. How are they going to manage?” she said.