Saman Ahsani has been jailed in the US for his role in the Unaoil scandal that made headlines around the world, with Australia’s the Age newspaper calling the Ahsani family “The company that bribed the world.”
Over several decades Monaco-based Unaoil had operated in the complex world of oil exploration, almost entirely as a fixer for major oil exploration and maintenance contracts in troubled and unstable zones, including Iraq after the American invasion. Among the company’s clients were Rolls-Royce, Samsung, and Halliburton.
UK and US authorities became interested in the Ahsanis’ operation after Australian media reported suspicions of bribery and corruption. It was no accident that the Age, owned by Fairfax Media, in particular, had instigated the media storm as Unaoil had been in conflict with an Australian oil major, Leighton, which had used Unaoil to win contracts in the Middle East and beyond.
Raids on the Ahsani offices and homes in Monaco took place at the instigation of the UK’s Serious Fraud Office in 2017, and for the next few years the US and the UK tussled for control of the probe. At its lowest point, a British investigator assaulted his US counterpart in a London pub, was fired and much later reinstated. The UK investigation was so flawed that three high-level Unaoil executives were exonerated after already serving long stretches in jail.
Unsurprisingly, the Americans won the contest for jurisdiction and Saman and his brother Cyrus have been cooperating with US authorities in the expectation of lenient treatment. A US source told the Financial Times that Saman has been “an open book.” Cyrus will be sentenced later this year. Saman is expected to serve his sentence in a low-security Federal prison.
A senior oil executive close to the Ahsani family once told me that the problem centres on misconceptions – possibly deliberate – about obtaining oil contracts. To seal a deal in large swaths of the world, in countries where the oil industry is by far the most important, money must be paid. It’s standard practice. You can call it a bribe, or you can call it extortion. Such payments oil the wheels of commerce, usually to the benefit of western multi-nationals, and without them there would be no business to do.
So it is not difficult to see at play in the UK and US investigations a great hypocrisy being played out in public, and some observers will no doubt ask if Saman’s relatively short jail sentence is a recognition of this.
https://www.theage.com.au/interactive/2016/the-bribe-factory/day-1/who-are-the-ahsanis.html (this report includes a video)
PHOTO: Saman (left) and Cyrus Ahsani. Kazakh Telegraph Agency