Former Top Executives at Oil and Gas Consultancy Unaoil Plead Guilty to Bribery

November 1, 2019 Updated: November 1, 2019

Three former top executives of the Monaco-based Unaoil Group, an oil and gas consultancy, have pleaded guilty to foreign bribery charges.

Brothers Cyrus Ahsani, 51, Unaoil’s former chief executive, and its former chief operations officer Saman, 46, both admitted to being part of a 17-year scheme to pay millions of dollars in bribes to officials in nine countries, according to court papers unsealed this week in a federal court in Houston.

They each pleaded guilty on March 25 to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) on behalf of companies to secure oil and gas contracts. They reached plea agreements with U.S. prosecutors, the Justice Department said on Oct. 31.

Unaoil Group’s former business development director, Steven Hunter, 50, also pleaded guilty in August to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA under a separate plea agreement with the Justice Department.

From 1999 to 2016, the Ahsani brothers, together with several companies and individuals, conspired to bribe government officials in Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Libya, and Syria, U.S. prosecutors said.

The Ahsanis, both British citizens of Iranian origin, laundered the proceeds of their bribery scheme and destroyed evidence to obstruct investigations in the U.S. and elsewhere, prosecutors said.

Hunter, meanwhile, facilitated bribes to Libyan officials between about 2009 and 2015.

Investigations into Unaoil, which was founded in 1991, began after a series of reports by Australian media company Fairfax Media in 2016. The reports alleged the Monaco-based company paid bribes on behalf of several oil and gas companies, prompting investigations by governments in the U.S. and the UK.

Companies named as clients of Unaoil in court on Wednesday included SBM Offshore N.V., an oil-services firm based in the Netherlands and a former subsidiary of British engineering company Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC, based in Ohio, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Other prominent companies such as Halliburton, Hyundai, and Samsung used Unaoil to win lucrative oil and gas contracts, The Age reported. Meanwhile, an Australian Federal Police investigation is underway into the well-known Australian company Leighton, which is now known as CIMIC. The company allegedly paid Unaoil millions of dollars as part of commission payments for corrupting the tender process for oil pipeline contracts in Iraq.

In July, former Unaoil manager Basil Al Jarah, 70, who played a role in Leighton’s success in Iraq, pleaded guilty to five counts of bribery. It’s the first conviction in a three-year criminal investigation by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

The Justice Department said in a news release it was aided by the governments of Australia, Canada, France, Guernsey, Italy, Monaco, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, and the UK, as well as by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Eurojust.

The Ahsani brothers are set for sentencing on April 20, 2020, while Hunter’s sentencing is scheduled for March 13 next year.

Reuters contributed to this report.