Southwark Crown Court
15 July 2020
This was one of the first jury trials to resume In the UK following a two-month pause resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, the jury trials resumed on May 13 at the Old Bailey, London’s Central Criminal Court, spread over three courtrooms. Some of the defendants attended remotely via an audio link, a fact that the judge stressed when summing up should not be held in any way against them.
The SFO has secured convictions against two former oil executives who conspired to give corrupt payments to secure contracts in Iraq. A jury at Southwark Crown Court found Ziad Akle guilty on two counts and Stephen Whiteley guilty on one count of conspiracy to give corrupt payments. The convictions follow the guilty pleas of co-conspirator Basil Al Jarah who, in July 2019, admitted five offences of conspiracy to give corrupt payments.
Stephen Whiteley was formerly vice president of Dutch energy services company, SBM Offshore, and subsequently Unaoil’s general territories manager.
According to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the defendants conspired with members of the Ahsani family, who control Unaoil, and others to pay a key Iraqi official in the state-owned South Oil Company over $600,000 to influence tender exercises in favour of their clients. The SFO said that in total corrupt payments worth $5.4 million had been paid to senior officials in the Iraqi Ministry of Oil to secure approval for a series of construction projects, including two new pipelines worth $800 million, following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
In the United States, Unaoil’s former CEO Cyrus Ahsani and former COO Saman Ahsani, both UK citizens, pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In 2018, Unaoil’s former business development director, Steven Hunter, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA. He’s a UK resident. All three are waiting to be sentenced.
The verdict marks a milestone in the SFO global inquiry into how Unaoil, once run by the prominent Ahsani family, helped major Western companies secure energy projects across the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa over two decades.