Britain begins criminal proceedings against Unaoil firms

LONDON (Reuters) - British prosecutors said on Tuesday they had begun criminal proceedings against two Unaoil companies, part of a Monaco-based oil and gas consultancy, in an investigation into alleged bribery, corruption and money laundering.

FILE PHOTO: A sign is displayed in an unmarked Serious Fraud Office vehicle parked outside a building, in Mayfair, central London March 9, 2011. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which has charged six individuals in a two-year investigation, said representatives from Unaoil Monaco SAM and Unaoil Ltd had been asked to attend a London court hearing on July 18 to be formally charged with conspiracy to give corrupt payments to secure contracts in Iraq.

The SFO’s case against Unaoil Ltd relates to a $733 million contract to build two oil pipelines in southern Iraq for Leighton Contractors Singapore PTE Ltd, while the case against Unaoil Monaco SAM focuses on Iraqi contracts for SBM Offshore.

Unaoil, which provides oil and gas services in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa for international companies, is run by the prominent Monaco-based Ahsani business family.

The Ahsani family said in a statement it had yet to receive any corporate summons from the SFO and noted it would take its time to scrutinize charges “if they ever materialise”.

“The SFO is targeting two companies that are in the process of being liquidated - those liquidations being as a result of the SFO’s protracted investigation,” it said.

SBM Offshore offices in Monaco and Leighton Contractors offices in Singapore were closed for the day.

The SFO’s Unaoil investigation has drawn in other companies, such as the British subsidiaries of U.S.-listed engineering, procurement and construction group KBR, the British subsidiaries of Swiss engineering company ABB and Petrofac, a UK-listed oilfield services provider.

KBR, ABB and Petrofac have said they are cooperating with investigators. They have not been charged with any offence.

Petrofac said last year that its chief executive and chief operating officer had been questioned under caution.

Reporting by Kirstin Ridley. Editing by Jane Merriman and David Evans