Petrofac accused of keeping fake accounts to disguise bribes

A multinational energy firm accused by prosecutors of maintaining a fake set of accounts to disguise the payment of bribes to foreign government officials has been identified by the Guardian as the UK-based company Petrofac.

Petrofac, which is headed by a major Tory donor, has been under investigation by the UK’s anti-corruption agency, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), for suspected bribery and money laundering.

The allegations of corruption have emerged as part of a separate investigation by US prosecutors into another firm, Unaoil.

Petrofac, which is a FTSE 250 company, said no charges had been brought against any of its companies or current employees since the SFO started its investigation three years ago.

In a press statement published by US prosecutors last month, two brothers who ran Unaoil admitted their roles in paying multimillion-dollar bribes to officials in Kazakhstan and eight other countries over 17 years.

Cyrus Ahsani, 51, and his brother Saman, 46, who managed Unaoil, pleaded guilty to facilitating the payment of bribes between 1999 and 2016. They admitted conspiring to facilitate bribes on behalf of multinational firms to secure oil and gas contracts for them.

The US prosecutors alleged in a legal document published last month that 27 firms around the world conspired with Unaoil to corrupt officials in specified countries.

Only two of these firms are named in the legal document as they have admitted paying bribes with Unaoil. The others are given cyphers. However, Petrofac has been identified as being one of the firms by the Guardian from separate sources.

Petrofac has previously disclosed that it hired Unaoil for “the provision of local consultancy services primarily in Kazakhstan between 2002 and 2009”.

According to the US Department of Justice (DoJ), Cyrus Ahsani conspired with employees of the firm that has been identified by the Guardian as being Petrofac to pay bribes to obtain contracts in Kazakhstan between 2003 and 2010.

The US prosecutors said the Ahsani brothers took steps to conceal the alleged bribes and coordinated with an executive of the firm that has been identified as Petrofac to maintain a double set of books and records to disguise the payments as legitimate transactions. The Petrofac executive left the firm some years ago.

The Serious Fraud Office opened an investigation into alleged bribery and money-laundering involving Unaoil in 2016 after the leak of thousands of its emails to journalists at Australia’s Fairfax media.

Following the leak, Petrofac commissioned a law firm to examine allegations that it had conspired with Unaoil to pay bribes to land contracts in Kazakhstan. In 2016, Petrofac said this investigation “did not find evidence confirming the payment of bribes”, adding that its board confirmed “that no evidence was found that any director of the company was aware of the alleged misconduct that is the subject of the allegations”.

In 2017, the SFO disclosed that it had opened an investigation into Petrofac for suspected bribery and money laundering. This year, David Lufkin, 51, a former Petrofac executive, pleaded guilty to 11 counts of offering bribes between 2011 and 2016 in an attempt to secure contracts in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. He has yet to be sentenced.

In a new statement, Petrofac said: “No charges have been brought against any Petrofac Group company or any serving directors, officers or employees since the SFO’s investigation began. Petrofac is a responsible business with clear anti-bribery and corruption standards and we only expect to be awarded contracts by submitting the best technical and most competitive commercial offer.

“As previously disclosed, Petrofac engaged Unaoil for the provision of local consultancy services primarily in Kazakhstan between 2002 and 2009. The findings from the company’s independent investigation into this period were proactively shared with the SFO in 2016. We continue to engage with the SFO and are focused on bringing this matter to closure.”

A source familiar with Petrofac’s dealings with authorities said it was not aware of any separate DoJ investigation into the firm or any of its current employees. The DoJ declined to comment.

Petrofac designs and constructs facilities for the oil and gas industry, employing more than 11,000 people in 24 offices around the world and received revenues of more than £5bn last year.

Petrofac’s co-founder, chief executive and largest shareholder is Ayman Asfari. He and his wife have donated almost £800,000 to the Conservative party since 2009. The donations were made in a personal capacity.

Last month, the Guardian revealed that two former Conservative prime ministers, Theresa May and David Cameron, lobbied a Middle Eastern royal family to award a $5bn (£3.9bn) fossil fuels contract to Petrofac.

The Guardian | November 24th, 2019
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/nov/24/petrofac-accused-of-keeping-fake-accounts-to-disguise-bribes