Fourth executive jailed in Britain's Iraq oil bribery case



© Reuters.

By Kirstin Ridley

LONDON (Reuters) – A former sales manager of Dutch energy services company SBM Offshore was sentenced on Monday to three-and-a-half years in jail after being convicted by a London jury of bribing public officials to win oil contracts in post-occupation Iraq.

Paul Bond, 68, was found guilty of two counts of bribery after a retrial at London’s Southwark Crown Court on Wednesday. His sentencing hearing was delayed after the judge developed COVID-19 symptoms and self-isolated.

Bond is the fourth executive convicted after a five-year Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into Monaco-based consultancy Unaoil, which uncovered bribes of more than $17 million to secure contracts worth $1.7 billion for Unaoil and its Western, blue-chip clients.

Bond had denied wrongdoing.

Prosecutors had said that Unaoil employees worked on behalf of SBM Offshore and with Bond to pay more than $900,000 in bribes to Iraqi public officials at Iraq’s South Oil Company and the Ministry of Oil to win a $55 million contract for offshore mooring buoys by skewing a competitive tender in their favour.

Basil Al Jarah, Unaoil’s former Iraq partner, was last year sentenced to three years and four months in jail after pleading guilty to five bribery counts in 2019. Unaoil’s former territory managers for Iraq – Ziad Akle and Stephen Whiteley – received five and three-year sentences respectively.

The SFO investigation originally centred on the prominent Ahsani family, which ran Unaoil. However, failed extradition attempts culminating in a clash in Italy with U.S. prosecutors over the extradition of Saman Ahsani in 2018 scuppered the British agency’s attempts to pursue prosecution in Britain.

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In October 2019 Saman Ahsani and his brother Cyrus pleaded guilty in the United States to being part of a 17-year scheme to pay millions of dollars in bribes to officials in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. Their father and Unaoil founder, Ata Ahsani, has not been prosecuted.

SBM Offshore, which has declined to comment, was fined $238 million by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2017 under a deferred prosection agreement.

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