Former Unaoil managers convicted in Britain of Iraq bribery

Ziad Akle (pictured) and Stephen Whiteley have been found guilty and the verdict is a relief for the UK Serious Fraud Office. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 July 2020

Former Unaoil managers convicted in Britain of Iraq bribery

  • The verdict marks a milestone in the British arm of a 4-year, global inquiry

LONDON: Two former managers of Monaco-based energy consultancy Unaoil have been convicted in Britain of bribing Iraqi officials to clinch lucrative oil projects as the war-ravaged country tried to boost exports after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The verdict marks a milestone in the British arm of a four-year, global inquiry into how Unaoil, once run by the prominent Ahsani family, helped major Western companies secure energy projects across the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa over two decades.
A London jury found British-Lebanese Ziad Akle, Unaoil’s former Iraq territory manager, and Stephen Whiteley, a British former manager for Iraq, Kazakhstan and Angola, guilty of plotting to make corrupt payments to secure oil contracts between 2005 and 2010.
But after a marathon 19 days of deliberations, the jury was unable to reach a verdict in the case against Paul Bond, a British one-time Middle East sales manager for Dutch-based oil and gas services company SBM Offshore. He faces a retrial, the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) confirmed on Monday.
The three men denied any wrongdoing.
The judge lifted reporting restrictions on Monday after a drawn-out trial that was suspended in March as the coronavirus brought parts of the criminal justice system to a halt, and restarted in May in a new court to allow jurors to socially distance.
“These men dishonestly and corruptly took advantage of a government reeling from dictatorship and occupation and trying to reconstruct a war-torn state,” said SFO head Lisa Osofsky following the verdicts against Akle and Whiteley.
“They abused the system to cut out competitors and line their own pockets.”
The agency has now secured three convictions in the case after Basil Al Jarah, Unaoil’s 71-year-old former country manager for Iraq, pleaded guilty last year.
The principal suspects in the case, brothers Cyrus and Saman Ahsani, evaded British investigators and pleaded guilty to bribery in the United States after an extradition battle in Italy in 2018.
Akle, 45, Whiteley, 65, and Al Jarah will be sentenced on July 22 and 23, the SFO said.
BRIBERY
Prosecutors said the defendants had conspired with others to pay bribes to public officials at the Iraqi South Oil Company and, in Al Jarah’s case, Iraqi Ministry of Oil representatives, to secure oil contracts for Unaoil and its clients.
Al Jarah admitted to paying more than $6 million in bribes to secure contracts worth $800 million to supply oil pipelines and offshore mooring buoys. Akle and Whiteley were found guilty of paying more than $500,000 in bribes to secure a $55 million contract for offshore mooring buoys.
In his defense, Akle said payments were authorized for security purposes. Whiteley denied knowing about payments but said he wanted a “level playing field” during a competitive tender.
A lawyer for Whiteley was unable to comment and legal representatives for Akle and Bond did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


North Korea brings aid supplies to border town under coronavirus lockdown

Updated 8 min 7 sec ago

North Korea brings aid supplies to border town under coronavirus lockdown

  • Lockdown imposed on Kaesong last month after a person, who defected to South Korea in 2017, returned showing coronavirus symptoms

SEOUL: North Korea’s ruling party has delivered special aid packages of food and medical equipment to residents of Kaesong, near the border with the South, after imposing a lockdown there due to COVID-19 concerns, state media said on Sunday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared an emergency and imposed a lockdown on the small border town last month after a person, who defected to South Korea in 2017, returned to Kaesong across the highly fortified border showing coronavirus symptoms.
Pyongyang has not confirmed any coronavirus infections but has been taking strict quarantine measures and screening the town, while providing food, test kits and other medical equipment, according to state media.
State television on Sunday showed a train arriving at the Kaesong station and trucks delivering supplies to residents.
Separately, hundreds of people wearing masks and sitting apart from one another gathered at a party auditorium to thank authorities for the aid, with some breaking down in tears, footage showed.
The official KCNA news agency said the shipments arrived on Friday to help the residents cope with the lockdown, which “may lead to a deadly and destructive disaster.”
North Korea has not formally confirmed that the man in question tested positive for the virus. Seoul officials have said the 24-year-old returned to the North after facing a sexual assault investigation in the South.
South Korean health officials said there was no sign he was infected before he crossed the border, and at least two people who were in close contact with him have tested negative.
South Korea has confirmed 14,598 coronavirus cases and 305 COVID-19 deaths, the Korea Centers for Disease Prevention and Control said on Sunday.