Last week I wrote: “Thirteen years after the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US, UK and their allies and clients, the country is no more liberated, democratic, free of corruption, peaceful [or] united. And certainly worried about its future and the fragmentation that may come about as a result of failing governments to safeguard the well-being of Iraqis.”
It never came to my mind that corruption in Iraq is going to be as exposed as it has been in the last few days. Reports and allegations have been rampant since 2003, but corrupt officials were not brought to justice. Some were even helped to flee the country to reside with the very nations of the occupation, where they now are enjoying their loot.
However, the world is not yet devoid of honest professional people who expose corrupt officials and companies to open the eyes of the people of Iraq on how their wealth has been squandered since 2003. The damning investigative report in the Fairfax Media and the Huffington Post is the talk of many towns, especially in Iraq. Not by the Iraqi government, but by some newspapers, television channels and the social networks.
It involves the exposure of Monaco-based Unaoil, owned by an Iranian family, which is at the heart of a global bribery operation in many countries, but specifically in Iraq where many US, British, European and Australian companies willingly participated.
The report exposed former deputy prime minister and oil minister and current Minister of Higher Education Hussain Al Shahristani (dubbed the Teacher), former oil minister Abdul Karim Luaibi (dubbed Mister M), the former South Oil Company director-generals Kifah Numan and Dhia Jafar (known as Lighthouse), in addition to a project manager by the name of Odai Al Quraishi (Ivan).
It is now being reported that multi-million dollars in bribes were passed on to them through two Iraqi intermediaries — Basil Al Jarah and Ahmad Al Jibouri — who also pocketed huge amounts.
While the operation started in 2003, it took a large jump upward from 2008 onward to deliver huge contracts to Unaoil’s clients that included international oil, engineering and supply companies.
The majority of the companies named are known to be excellent in their services and products and one would ask why they needed to bribe their way for work.
The only answer is that the middle men manipulated the willing officials to work that way and make huge money on the side.
It is sad to know that some Iraqi officials informed Unaoil that suppliers “could charge the Iraqi government inflated prices, to ensure fatter profits” and that “the cost will be no object”. The report says that “Ivan and Lighthouse repeatedly leaked information to Unaoil, and rigged tender committees to favour its clients” — outrageous indeed but true.
The case of Leighton — the Australian construction giant awarded $1.3 billion of contracts for offshore pipelines in Iraq — was investigated by Australian authorities and its management admitted to paying bribes. The name of Lighthouse came up in the proceedings and the media. The Iraq government did not even bother to investigate and Lighthouse was rewarded with a promotion to the post of deputy oil minister.
The biggest bribes went to the Teacher and Mister M, both at the highest levels of government for no reason of past professional success or achievement except perhaps their willingness to serve the sectarian religious parties and their drive for corruption.
This time around, the Iraqi government needs a miracle to cover up for these corrupt officials, especially after “[the] FBI, [the] US Department of Justice and anti-corruption police in Britain and Australia have launched a joint investigation into revelations of a massive global bribery racket in the oil industry,” targeting Unaoil and its clients and bankers who helped the Monaco-based company and its intermediaries to launder their money.
Ahmad Mousa Jiyad of the Iraq Development Consultancy and Research in Norway said “[by] making such assertion, the publisher is usually, under European and international law, legally responsible for such disclosure if proven baseless. That is what makes allegations have sharp teeth and nails.”
He urges the Iraqi authorities not only to investigate but to “consider taking legal actions against Unaoil and all involved companies that are mentioned in the article, and [authorities] should seek to have compensation accordingly.” Not very likely, but let us hope.
The Iraqi people should know that while Unaoil was making millions of dollars through these corrupt officials, its functionaries describe them as “greedy”.
But make no mistake, much more will come when the oil and gasfield licensing rounds are investigated, in which the Teacher and Mister M were the champions.