Oil company run by conservative donor investigates suspected bribes in nine countries

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A multinational oil company run by a major Conservative donor is under investigation for allegedly paying £ 1million bribes to secure contracts in nine countries.

Anti-corruption agency Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigated allegedly suspicious payments made by UK company Petrofac.

The company was run by Ayman Asfari, who, along with his wife, donated nearly £ 800,000 to the Conservative Party in a personal capacity.

Details of the alleged payments, dating back to the early 2000s, indicate that the SFO’s investigation was broader than previously known. The investigation, which began at least four years ago, is continuing.

The SFO has examined alleged payments made by Petrofac for more than 15 years for land contracts in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, including Kuwait and Algeria.

Other alleged payments that have been examined by the SFO relate to contracts awarded to Petrofac in Iran, Syria, Bahrain and Kazakhstan, according to documents and sources familiar with the investigation.

The SFO investigation resulted in a guilty plea from a former senior executive, David Lufkin. He admitted to working with Petrofac employees to offer or pay bribes totaling $ 80million (£ 57million) to win contracts worth a total of $ 7, $ 5 billion in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.

Lufkin, who has yet to be convicted, is due to appear in court in London on Monday.

Petrofac has also come under scrutiny for the support it has received from the government. The Guardian previously revealed that David Cameron, after leaving Downing Street, lobbied the Bahraini royal family to persuade them to award a $ 5 billion oil contract to Petrofac in 2017.

Just six months after stepping down as prime minister, Cameron promoted the company on a two-day visit to Bahrain where he met the state’s crown prince. Cameron was brought back to Britain on a plane owned by Asfari, co-founder and then CEO of Petrofac.

That same year, Theresa May, while in Downing Street, also lobbied the Bahraini royal family to help the company try to win the oil contract. Petrofac, which did not get the contract, said no preferential treatment was given by the UK government to the company due to personal donations from Asfari.

The lobbying of former prime ministers took place before it was publicly known that Petrofac was the subject of an SFO investigation for alleged corruption and money laundering.

A third conservative politician, Liam Fox, then international trade secretary, also pressured the Bahraini royal family to award the contract to Petrofac. Fox’s intervention came after the SFO announced its investigation into the company in May 2017. The Department of International Trade previously said Fox followed the correct processes and acted with propriety.

Asfari, 63, was CEO of Petrofac for almost two decades until his resignation at the end of 2020. He is currently a non-executive director. He was the largest shareholder.

In 1991, he co-founded the company that designs and builds facilities for the oil and gas energy industry. It has approximately 9,400 employees in 31 countries.

During its investigation, the SFO arrested and questioned Asfari among others. He was questioned on bail in May 2017 and released without charge.

A spokesperson for Petrofac said: “Three years ago, we confirmed that the SFO’s investigation into Petrofac had been, and would continue to be, far-reaching in both time and scope, Which is completely normal ; Additionally, during our constructive engagement with the SFO over the past four years, we recognize their stated approach to accelerate and, most importantly, focus on their investigations as they progress, and we look forward to close this matter as quickly as possible.

Asfari and his wife, Sawsan, made donations to the Conservatives between 2009 and 2017. In 2014, Cameron, while on Downing Street, appointed him one of the 43 ambassadors for the Prime Minister’s affairs, the British government to promote trade and investment.

Lufkin, 54, former global sales manager for Petrofac International, pleaded guilty to 14 counts of corruption between 2012 and 2018.

The indictment against Lufkin also accuses several of his former colleagues at Petrofac of having acted with him make fraudulent payments to influence the award of contracts to the company. Asfari was not named on the indictment.

He identified three of the countries where Petrofac reportedly poured bribes.

Petrofac has previously said no charges have been brought against any Petrofac group company or against executives or employees on duty since the SFO’s investigation began.

The OFS opened its investigation after Australian journalists working for Fairfax Media published documents in 2016 suggesting that Petrofac had hired Monegasque company Unaoil to make payments to secure contracts in Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kuwait and in Syria. Petrofac said an independent review found no evidence of misconduct.

Asfari representatives said he did not want to comment. The SFO declined to comment as its investigation continues.


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