Unaoil Case Exposes Scandalous Side of Oil & Gas Industry

Unaoil, a Monaco-based oil consulting company, has been embroiled in scandal ever since a media investigation exposed wide-reaching fraud allegations involving the firm. The joint investigation conducted by Australian-based Fairfax Media and the Huffington Post presented emails and other alleged evidence that Unaoil facilitated or encouraged bribes on behalf of several large international oil and gas companies. 

In particular, the scandal involves several Western-based companies winning several energy contracts in the Middle East and Africa, through illegal and unethical means supported or facilitated by Unaoil. The allegations include bribery and corruption.

As detailed by The Age in Australia:

A massive leak of confidential documents has for the first time exposed the true extent of corruption within the oil industry, implicating dozens of leading companies, bureaucrats and politicians in a sophisticated global web of bribery and graft.

After a six-month investigation across two continents, Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post can reveal that billions of dollars of government contracts were awarded as the direct result of bribes paid on behalf of firms including British icon Rolls-Royce, US giant Halliburton, Australia’s Leighton Holdings and Korean heavyweights Samsung and Hyundai. 

In a twist to this international news story, Unaoil has broken its silence and denied the wide-reaching fraud allegations, and has claimed the company is the victim of an extortion plot. 

According to a Reuters article, Unaoil claims that the “sensational” charges by Fairfax Media and the Huffington Post are untrue and result from the extortion scheme:

[Unaoil] said its advisers believed the extortionists were "at the very least" involved with the media sources of the articles.

"The extortionists demanded huge sums of money from us in exchange for stolen emails and threatened that if we didn't pay they would go to the media," Unaoil said.

It did not say what information the extortionists had threatened to pass to the media but said it had been their victim for four months.

Essentially, the case hinges on masses of documents and files that were leaked to the media and demonstrate the use of code words, deception, and in some cases, details about acts of bribery and corruption. According to the media investigators, some emails even capture conversations in which the participants mock anti-corruption efforts and make references to a network of operatives and middleman intent on facilitating bribes.

According to the investigation, the fraud centered around the following:

The right climate for fraud. “Oil-rich countries often suffer poor governance and high levels of corruption. Unaoil’s business plan is to play on the fears of large Western companies that they cannot win contracts without its help.”

A cycle that feeds itself. “The multi-million dollar fees Unaoil takes from its clients are funnelled into an industrial scale bribery operation which further entrenches corruption among the powerful few.”

Operatives in place to perpetrate bribes. “Its operatives then bribe officials in oil-producing nations to help these clients win government-funded projects. The corrupt officials might rig a tender committee. Or leak inside information. Or ensure a contract is awarded without a competitive tender.”

Despite Unaoil’s insistence that it is above-board and has committed no illegal acts, law enforcement is now involved. According to the media report, The FBI, U.S. Department of Justice and anti-corruption police in Britain and Australia have launched a joint investigation into Unaoil and the revelations of a massive global bribery racket in the oil industry.

There will be more chapters to write on the Unaoil scandal as the saga unfolds. Just weeks after the Panama Papers captured the world’s attention, the list of large corporate names in the Unaoil documents is sure to keep investigators busy for the foreseeable future. Then we will know what the consequences are for both Unaoil and its high-priced clientele.