The Serious Fraud Office has announced that it is conducting a criminal investigation into Unaoil, the Monaco firm that earlier this year was implicated in an international corruption scandal by investigative journalists in Australia.
Rolls-Royce, Petrofac and Halliburton are among the dozens of multinationals reported to have hired Unaoil, which acts as an agent to help companies secure business in unfamiliar overseas markets.
Authorities in Monaco raided the firm’s office in April following the publication of reports by Fairfax Media and the Huffington Post based on hundreds of thousands of leaked internal emails and documents. The raids were reportedly carried out at the behest of the Serious Fraud Office, which at the time had declined to confirm its involvement.
Emails published by Fairfax described how Unaoil staff allegedly used codenames such as “Lighthouse”, “Ivan”, “M” and “Teacher” to obliquely refer to high-level contacts in the Iraqi state oil company. The company operated in countries all over the world, including Angola, Azerbaijan and Libya.
“The SFO is conducting a criminal investigation into the activities of Unaoil, its officers, its employees and its agents in connection with suspected offences of bribery, corruption and money laundering,” the SFO said in a statement released earlier today.
“We have been approached by a number of sources who may have information relevant to this investigation. If you have any information please contact us through our secure and confidential reporting channel.”
The SFO investigation into Unaoil began in March this year. The company has expressly denied the corruption allegations and says it will sue Fairfax Media. When asked by reporters if his firm had paid bribes, its chief executive, Ata Ahsani, said: “The answer is absolutely no.”
Unaoil had no comment on the SFO’s statement on Tuesday.
Although headquartered in Monaco, several of the Unaoil group of companies were in fact incorporated in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands by the law firm behind the Panama Papers, Mossack Fonseca.
The documents revealed that Unaoil had been hired by the oil giant BP for business in Iraq, even after press reports of Unaoil being implicated in corruption in the country had already emerged.
A copy of a contract found in the Panama Papers revealed that BP had signed a multimillion-dollar contract with Unaoil for the provision of engineering services at the Kirkuk oil field in northern Iraq. BP confirmed that it had hired Unaoil, but declined to answer questions on whether its compliance department had approved the contract.
Unaoil said that BP had undertaken “an exhaustive due diligence review” before signing the contract and that no part of its fee had been intended for payment to officials in connection with the Kirkuk project.
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