Bri­tish oil firm in­ves­ti­gated for cor­rup­tion in So­ma­lia

The China Post - - WORLD BUSINESS -

An oil com­pany chaired by a for­mer leader of the UK’s rul­ing Con­ser­va­tive Party is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for al­leged cor­rup­tion in So­ma­lia, claims the com­pany slammed as “defam­a­tory.”

Soma Oil and Gas, a pri­vate com­pany chaired by Michael Howard, Baron Howard of Lympne on Mon­day de­nied pay­ing more than half a bil­lion U.S. dol­lars to gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to pro­tect an oil ex­plo­ration deal signed in 2013.

Bri­tain’s Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice (SFO) said on Fri­day it had opened a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Soma fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion in So­ma­lia.

The al­le­ga­tions stem from in­ves­ti­ga­tions car­ried out by the United Na­tions Mon­i­tor­ing Group on So­ma­lia and Eritrea, set up to de­tail in­fringe­ments of arms em­bar­goes on the coun­tries.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors say that US$690,000 worth of pay­ments were sus­pi­cious. They al­lege that at least US$580,000 paid since June 2014 as part of a “ca­pac­ity build­ing pro­gram” may have been cor­rupt pay­ments to So­mali gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

An April 2014 “side let­ter” from Soma to So­ma­lia’s petroleum min­is­ter said the com­pany would pay salaries and equip­ment costs to sup­port the ex­plo­ration pro­gram up to a to­tal of US$400,000. The agree­ment was ex­tended in April 2015, since when a fur­ther US$90,000 has al­legedly been paid.

A fur­ther US$100,000 was paid for a “data room” to store and an­a­lyze seis­mic data but which has not been built.

The al­le­ga­tions were con­tained in a 28-page re­port put to the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s sanc­tions com­mit­tee on Mon­day.

Soma said in a state­ment that the U.N. in­ves­ti­ga­tors had “fun­da­men­tally mis­un­der­stood the na­ture, pur­pose and des­ti­na­tion of the pay­ments made.”

“Any sug­ges­tion that any of the pay­ments ... were im­proper, un­law­ful or gave rise to a con­flict of in­ter­est is in­cor­rect and defam­a­tory,” the com­pany said.

“Soma has al­ways con­ducted its busi­ness in a com­pletely law­ful and eth­i­cal man­ner and will take all ap­pro­pri­ate steps to pro­tect its rep­u­ta­tion.”

The Soma deal is in­tended to re­vive So­ma­lia’s oil and gas in­dus­try which has been on hold dur­ing decades of civil war and years of Is­lamic in­sur­gency.

Howard is ex­pected to be in­ter­viewed by the SFO as part of its in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Soma said “no sus­pi­cion what­so­ever at­tatches to Lord Howard.”

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