Former Unaoil executive sentenced for $1.7bn Iraq bribe

Al-Jarah, Unaoil’s former Iraq country manager, admitted to paying bribes. (AFP)
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Updated 10 October 2020

Former Unaoil executive sentenced for $1.7bn Iraq bribe

  • Manager admits to paying officials to secure contracts for constructing oil projects in war-torn nation

LONDON: A former executive at Monaco-based oil and gas consultancy Unaoil has been sentenced in London to three years and four months in jail for bribing Iraqi public officials to clinch $1.7 billion worth of oil projects in post-occupation Iraq.

Basil Al-Jarah, Unaoil’s former Iraq country manager, admitted to paying $17 million in bribes to secure contracts to construct oil pipelines, an oil platform and offshore mooring buoys in the Arabian Gulf, as the war-torn nation tried to shore up a battered economy after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
It is the third sentence handed down by a London judge after a five-year investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and US authorities into how the prominent Ahsani family, which ran Unaoil, secured energy contracts for Western blue-chip clients in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.Former Unaoil managers Stephen Whiteley, 55, and 45-year-old Ziad Akle, have already been sentenced to three and five years in jail respectively 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,” said SFO head Lisa Osofsky.
John Milner, Al-Jarah’s lawyer, said that he was disappointed the court had not agreed to a suspended sentence and “chose to ignore the position of the owners of Unaoil . . . (who were) unlikely to share Mr. Al-Jarah’s fate.”
The SFO investigation originally centered on the Ahsanis, but failed extradition attempts culminating in a clash in Italy with US prosecutors over the extradition of Saman Ahsani in 2018 thwarted the agency’s attempts to prosecute them in Britain.

HIGHLIGHTS

● Basil Al-Jarah sentenced in London after guilty plea.

● Ziad Akle, Stephen Whiteley already sentenced after trials.

● Ahsani brothers, who ran Unaoil, pleaded guilty in US.

● Fourth British defendant faces retrial in January.

British prosecutors alleged 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 offenses in 2019 and asked for further offenses to be taken into consideration at his sentencing hearing on Thursday.
Whiteley and Akle, found guilty of conspiring to pay more than $500,000 in bribes to win a $55 million oil contract, plan to appeal against their convictions, according to their lawyers.
Paul Bond, a 68-year-old former sales manager for former Unaoil client SBM Offshore, faces a retrial in January after the jury could not reach a verdict in his case.
Brothers Cyrus and Saman Ahsani, Unaoil’s British-Iranian former CEO and chief operating officer, await sentencing in the US after pleading guilty to bribery in 2019. Their father, Ata Ahsani, has not been prosecuted.


Ski resorts out in the cold as France eases lockdown

Updated 27 November 2020

Ski resorts out in the cold as France eases lockdown

  • Frustrated resort operators count the cost of holiday season restrictions

MEGEVE, France:  Megeve, in the foothills of Mont Blanc, was gearing up to welcome back skiers before Christmas after a COVID-19 lockdown was eased.

But France’s government — while allowing cinemas, museums and theaters to reopen from Dec. 15 — says its ski slopes must stay off limits until 2021, leaving those who make their living in the Alpine village frustrated and, in some cases, perplexed.

“When you’re outside, when you’re doing sport outdoors, that’s not the moment when you’re going to give COVID-19 to someone. COVID-19 is passed on in enclosed places,” said Pierre de Monvallier, director of ski school Oxygene, which operates in several resorts including Megeve.

Announcing a phased easing of the lockdown on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron said it was “impossible to envisage” re-opening ski slopes for Christmas and New Year, and that he preferred instead to do so during January.

“It felt like the door had been slammed in our face,” said Catherine Jullien-Breches, the mayor of Megeve, whose green slopes are generally covered with snow by mid-December.

“Unfortunately it’s a real drama for the economies of the villages and the winter sports resorts.”

People who live within 20 km of France’s Alpine resorts will able to visit from this weekend, but with the lifts staying shut, the main draw is missing.

“It’s like going on holiday on the Cote d’Azur and being told the sea is off limits,” said David Le Scouarnec, co-owner of Megeve’s Cafe 2 la Poste.

The problem for the resorts — and the hotels, restaurants, and workers who depend on them for their livelihood — is that their season is short, and they will have little time after the New Year to claw back lost revenue.

Other European authorities are wrestling with the same problem. Italy’s resorts regions are seeking approval for restricted skiing, but Austria, whose biggest cluster of the first wave of the pandemic was at the ski resort of Ischgl — where thousands were infected — is skeptical.

Prevarication cuts little ice, however, with Mathieu Dechavanne, Chairman and CEO of Compagnie du Mont-Blanc, which operates cable cars at Megeve and other resorts.

He said who could not understand why the government allowed trains and metros to operate, but barred him from re-opening. “It’s like we’re being punished. We don’t deserve this. We’re ready.”