[Diritti] Unaoil Leaks: Investigation Spotlights Global Oil Industry ‘Bribes-for-Contracts’ Scandal - OCCRP

Unaoil Leaks: Investigation Spotlights Global Oil Industry ‘Bribes-for-Contracts’ Scandal

Published: Friday, 15 April 2016 16:29

Fairfax Media and the Huffington Post have revealed a link between the Panama Papers and their joint investigation into a bribe-and-corruption scandal centering on the Monaco-based company Unaoil.

The stories, called The Bribe Factory, are based on “the biggest leak of documents in oil-industry history” according to the investigation’s website.

The project says government contracts worth billions were allegedly awarded to British enterprise Rolls-Royce; American multinational Halliburton; Australia’s Leighton Holdings; and Korean corporations Samsung and Hyundai, thanks to bribes paid on behalf of the firms.

Unaoil, run by the Iranian Ahsani family based in Monaco, acted as intermediary for international companies doing business in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. It played on Western companies’ fears of doing business in highly corrupt countries and bribed officials to help clients win government-funded contracts.

Unaoil has denied the allegations on its website and vowed to defend itself “vigorously.”  But journalists say leaked internal emails from Unaoil show the company took multimillion-dollar fees from clients and funneled them into an “industrial scale bribery operation.”   

Just as the Panama Papers incited global tax authorities, police and prosecutors to action, the Unaoil leaks have also had an impact. The FBI, US Department of Justice and anti-corruption authorities in Australia and Britain have launched a joint investigation into the “bribes-for-contracts” scandal.

Azerbaijan: The Unaoil Panama Papers Link

The Bribe Factory journalists found a link between the Unaoil Leaks and the Panama Papers; Unaoil used offshore services provider Mossack Fonseca to establish offshore companies.

One of the biggest donors to the United Kingdom’s ruling Tory party, property magnate Javad Marandi​, was also a Mossack Fonseca client, Fairfax Media found. He was allegedly involved in Unaoil's dealings in Azerbaijan through his friend Mohammad Reza Raein, who acted as Unaoil's Azerbaijani middleman.

Raein “was extremely close to Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev family,” according to a 1999 Kellogg Brown & Root file reported by Fairfax Media. Kellogg Brown & Root was a former subsidiary of Halliburton.  

Azerbaijan’s Deputy Speaker of Parliament Valeh Aleskerov, who is also a senior oil official, was one of Raein’s confidential sources, reported Fairfax Media.  

In 2005 and 2006, Raein asked the Ahsanis to pay tens of thousands of dollars into the bank accounts of a man named "Javad," the journalists said. They identified the man as Javad Marandi after an email showed “Javad’s wife’s uncle Ilyas” as a senior executive of Azerbaijan's state-owned oil company, SOCAR.

The emails show that between 1996 and 2005 Raien was paid at least US$ 4.5 million for his work in Azerbaijan plus ample expenses, according to the investigation.

A series of emails in 2008 and 2009 between Mossack Fonseca's Panama office and Unaoil’s finance department dealt with power-of-attorney arrangements for Unaoil companies set up in the British Virgin Islands, the journalists said. These were between Unaoil’s founder, Ata Ahsani, and its two chief executives, his sons Cyrus and Saman Ahsani.

Although it’s not illegal to use offshore companies for tax purposes, Fairfax Media found that Unaoil's offshore companies had channeled corrupt payments to politicians, officials and oil industry executives in several countries.