The UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has alleged that people working for Monaco-based consultancy Unaoil paid $6mn in bribes for contracts worth $800mn in Iraq. The SFO made the allegations on the first day of a trial which is part of a larger investigation into corruption in Iraq.
Three UK nationals appeared at the hearing on Thursday facing counts of conspiracy; Ziad Akle, Paul Bond, and Stephen Whiteley allegedly gave corrupt payments linked to oil contracts between 2009 and 2010 in Iraq. All three men pleaded not guilty.
Ziad Akle was the Iraq territory manager for Unaoil, and was charged with three counts of conspiracy to make corrupt payments. Paul Bond was a senior sales manager with Unaoil client SBM Offshore, and Stephen Whiteley, former vice president of SBM Offshore and then Unaoil general territories manager for Iraq, were each charged with two counts.
The SFO began its investigation into Unaoil in 2016, alleging that the consultancy bribed the South Oil Company, paying Oday Al Quoraishi to win contracts for two clients.
"This trial is important for a number of reasons," commented Leigh Crestohl, partner at litigation and arbitration firm Zaiwalla & Co. "Firstly, it comes at a time when the SFO has recently been the focus of scrutiny and public criticism over a perceived lack of prosecutorial efficiency. This is an opportunity for the agency to demonstrate its value and to prove its critics wrong. Secondly, the underlying time period related to the allegations in this case is just prior to the coming into force of the UK Bribery Act 2010 on 1 July 2011, and the charges have been brought under previous legislation. There has been concern over the years that regulators and enforcement agencies do not consider the business practices of British businesspeople and companies carried out abroad to be a priority."