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Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham is a freelance writer on oil and gas, renewable energy, climate change, energy policy and geopolitics. He is based in Pittsburgh, PA.

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Unfolding The World’s Biggest Oil Bribery Scandal

Last week, a sweeping investigative report published by The Huffington Post and Fairfax Media put a little known Monaco-based company, Unaoil, at the center of a wide-ranging bribery scandal that involved dozens of corporate giants from around the world. The article calls it the “world’s biggest bribe scandal.”

After spending months investigating and combing through vast troves of emails and internal documents, The Huffington Post and Fairfax Media published a bombshell report on the bribery empire setup by Unaoil, a company based in Monaco. The report alleges that “Unaoil and its subcontractors bribed foreign officials to help major multinational corporations win contracts” in a variety of countries including Iraq, Kazakhstan, Iran, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and many more countries in Africa, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union.

Unaoil is not a household name, but the family-run company from Monaco, according to thousands of internal documents reviewed by the report’s authors, worked to win contracts for many regulars in the oil and gas industry, including Halliburton, KBR, Rolls-Royce, Samsung, Honeywell, FMC Technologies, Hyundai, and many more. Related: Company Accused Of Bribing Oil Producers Has Offices Raided By Police

The publication of the report, putting Unaoil at the very center of a massive international bribery ring, was met with head scratching by many energy analysts. Despite its seemingly crucial role in so many oil and gas contracts awarded around the world, very few have heard of the company.

The alleged operation was relatively straightforward. The clients – exploration companies, construction and engineering firms, and oilfield service contractors – would pay Unaoil large sums, and Unaoil would secure contracts for them by bribing government officials in the country of interest. Many of Unaoil’s clients claim that they did not know that Unaoil was bribing government officials on their behalf, but the report asserts that some were either willfully blind or were fully aware of the corruption.

In the case of Libya, the exhaustive report describes one glaring exchange, in which a Canadian fracking company contacted Unaoil, asking questions about how to approach a bribe in Libya, using astonishingly candid language. Related: Iran’s Masterplan To Ramp Up Energy Exports

“What we are curious about is to what type of Baksheesh [a common slang term for bribery] is needed to present to these men in order to get work started,” the president of the Canadian fracking company wrote to Unaoil. “I believe this is common practice in Libya, but we are not sure how to handle this. Is this something that needs to be done after work hours one on one? An added value amount to the ticket for them, or a flat fee a month, we are not sure. What are your thoughts on this?”

Iraq was one particular place where Unaoil had a heavy presence. The reports says Unaoil’s country manager for Iraq, Basil Al Jarah, routinely bribed Iraqi “government officials who were deemed ‘useful to us’ and to Unaoil's clients – multinationals such as British firms Rolls-Royce, Petrofac and Clyde Pumps, U.S. listed giants Weatherford, Cameron/Natco and FMC Technologies and European firms such Saipem, SBM Offshore and MAN Turbo.” Using coded language in communications, Unaoil built relationships with powerful officials in the Iraqi government, including the oil ministry. The Unaoil fixers would take Iraqi officials on shopping trips and pay them bribes, which were called “holidays” in coded language. Related: Oil Bust Takes Its Toll On Latin-American Oil Output

The result? Unaoil and its clients were “fleecing the people of Iraq, and in the process making a mockery of the U.S. government's promise, after toppling Saddam Hussein, to ensure Iraq's oil wealth would benefit all Iraqis.” Most of the documents reviewed by the investigation took place between 1999 and 2012, corresponding with the post-2003 invasion and rebuilding of Iraq, a period of time when much of the current landscape of Iraq’s oil sector was constructed.

Coming in the wake of the publication of the huge investigative report, police officials raided the offices of Unaoil in Monaco last week. The U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, the anti-corruption police in the UK and Australia have all opened up a joint investigation into Unaoil.

The report illustrates the extensive corruption that exists in the oil and gas world, particularly when it comes to the process of tendering lucrative contracts in countries with weak governance and corrupt bureaucracies.

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Latem on April 05 2016 said:
    Sounds like a reverse Ponzi Scheme, more so than just bribery and corruption. If two competing multi-nationals are competing on the same contract, how can Unaoil be fair game?
  • Robert J. Cravey, Jr. on April 05 2016 said:
    Does anyone honestly believe a word that Huffington Post ever espouses?
    True the depth of inappropriate business contact is not known even in
    the industries not related to energy exploration, etc., however the purposely
    put forth editorial skewing of reporting by Huffington Post, particularly
    in the area of social forums, e.g. Christianity bashing, is indicative of their wanton "sleazy" manner of "reporting."
  • Philip Branton on April 05 2016 said:
    What is left out is the documentation of where the bribes were paid and into which accounts for each actual person. Just as the bribes and skim for the Israel and Egyptian gas deal worked. Stockholders for each of these corporations should be forming class actions and going after everyone. Banks....wives.....property......kids....mistresses.....corporate secretaries...... ad marketing reps ......and every toadstool in the oil swamp..!

    This is what causes our freakin wars......
  • Philip Branton on April 05 2016 said:
    Nick, really...? We know your smart. We know ...you know....how a pipeline "PIG" is used to clean the pipelines out. Do you dare wonder how big a scam would be if YOU were to ask how a pipeline "pig" can be modified to be like a drug "mule" to actually transport drugs and "bribes" very securely..?

    Who is in charge of those type contracts ...?

    Nick....get busy.
  • B.E.M. on April 05 2016 said:
    One company's bribe is another country's "application fee", "franchise fee", "feasibility study"; on and on. It's part of the cost of doing business in these God forsaken holes.
  • Mike on April 06 2016 said:
    - With regards to using the Canadians trying to find advice for getting (MENA) employees to work, I can vouch for the fact that this is an common operational problem and not really a"bribery" example unless Uncoil was the labor contractor.

    - And you do not have to look outside the US to find creative bribery methods; i.e. oil field equipment suppliers buying pushers boots, pickups, firearms, etc., or my favorite is to see vendors inviting managers to high stakes poker games where the suppliers "lose" tremendous amounts of $ to the oilfield managers.

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