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Transnational Bribery, With Oil Agent Caught in the Middle

The New York Times reported on a large oil bribery scandal involving Unaoil which they describe as a “go-to agent” in the oil industry. Saman, Cyrus and, Ata Ahsani were apprehended by Monaco authorities, questioned, and then released, due to an investigation pointing to their company Unaoil bribing officials and managers in order to business for larger oil companies in the Middle East and Central Asia. The investigation also involves authorities in three countries, the UK, the US and Australia to see whether or not these bribes were actually paid to officials and managers in countries such as Iraq and Libya. They are being charged with bribery and corruption.

The Ahsanis have denied the charges. They say their advisory division, relied on “cultivated relationships” and “hard-won knowledge” (Segal, New York Times).  The issue is the evidence they face is all from an Unaoil hard drive filled with their own emails receipts and records. The emails written in secretive sentences that suggest bribery. An example from one of their emails is “The best medicine for a calm life is a dose of George Washington.”

The hard drive was acquired by a blackmailer/whistle blower. While it is unclear whether it is the same person or a group, the blackmailer is known as Komrade while the whistle blower is Le Figaro. After Komrade tried to blackmail the Ahsanis and was not paid the amount he demanded he issued a threat to the Ahsanis and four days later their homes were raided.  The day after the raid The Age and The Huffington Post published articles including a multipage expose’ that ruined the company. All of the information was provided by Le Figaro.

Adding to the Ahsanis troubles is one of their former employees admitting to being involved in bribery for Unaoil, Lindsey Mitchell. He stated that when he interviewed for his job the Ashanis were impressed with his connections to the Qaddafi regime.  He even stated that he delivered an envelope that contained “at least $100,000” to a manger of the state run Waha Oil Company in Libya after he demanded a payoff so Unaoil could secure a $45 million environmental cleanup contract. The money Mitchell delivered was given to him by one of the Ahsanis relatives at their Tripoli office.

After delivering the bribe Mitchell quit but when he found the article in The Age he contacted the authorities and has cooperated with them. He has made no pleas for immunity.

The Ashanis case is of great international relevance due to their client list which includes BP, Shell and the Basrah Gas Company. BP and Shell declined to comment to The New York Times and Basrah Gas Company has not responded to their emails. Unaoil however has been involved in jobs for these companies providing services such as equipment management and onsite inspections. One of Unaoil’s clients, Petrofac, a UK based oil field services company ended up suspending their Chief Operating Officer after he and the company’s CEO were arrested and questioned and released by the Serious Fraud Office.

If Unaoil is found to be at fault what will it mean for larger companies that were Unaoil clients? Should Shell and BP be investigated and held accountable? Is it ok if we are and have been using oil from authoritarian regimes? Should Komrade be held responsible for blackmail?


The link to the original story my The New York Times is here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/23/business/ahsani-middlemen-oil-unaoil.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

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