Maneuvering, manipulation and $6 million in bribes helped oil companies win contracts with Iraq in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's reign, UK prosecutors said on the first day of opening arguments in a London corruption trial.
Two former Unaoil executives and a sales manager at client company Single Buoy Moorings Inc. are charged with conspiracy to make corrupt payments to secure multi-million dollar business contracts in Iraq between 2005 and 2011.
The accusations against Stephen Whiteley, Paul Bond and Ziad Akle follow the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office investigation into corruption at Unaoil which began in 2016. All three men deny the charges.
With assistance from Unaoil, an oil-sector consultancy founded in Monaco by the Ahsani family, Dutch infrastructure company SBM Offshore won a contract for the supply of three offshore floating systems in the Persian Gulf, SFO prosecutor Michael Brompton told the jury.
This was achieved "after a long process of maneuvering and manipulation," he said.
Unaoil also assisted Singapore-registered company Leighton Offshore in obtaining a contract for laying two 48-inch pipelines and installing the floating systems.
"In each case, Unaoil's assistance included the payment of bribes" to an employee at the South Oil Company (SOC), Brompton said.
SOC is an Iraqi state-owned firm responsible for oil in the south of the nation and was placed in charge of the project on behalf of the country's Ministry of Oil. The company is based in Basra, Iraq's main port where most of its oil is exported from.
Once SOC's recommendations to the Iraqis had been obtained, Unaoil bribed senior officials at the ministry in order to secure the two contracts, Brompton said. In total, Unaoil paid approximately $6 million in bribes to secure the two contracts, together worth approximately $800 million, he said.
Although Iraq is now one of the largest producers of oil in the world, during Hussein's reign and the Iraq war oil exports fell significantly. When a new Iraqi government was formed in 2006, the oil ministry began to form a master plan to more than double its oil exports.
Unaoil sought to profit from this expansion plan, according to the SFO.
Whiteley was vice president at SBM until May 2009 when he joined Unaoil as its territory manager for Iraq before taking a different post. Akle was also Unaoil's territory manager for Iraq and Bond was SBM's sales manager for the Middle East.