Unaoil denies media link to corruption, says it is a victim of extortion

SYDNEY, May 16 (Reuters) - Monaco-based oil services company Unaoil denied on Monday a media report linking it to corrupt practices involving big oil companies said it has been the victim of an extortion attempt by unidentified criminals.

The Australian newspaper group Fairfax Media and the Huffington Post said in a joint report in April that the U.S. Department of Justice and anti-corruption police in Britain and Australia had launched a joint investigation into the activities of Unaoil.

Unaoil denied the media allegations saying the reporting was “littered with sensationalist distortions and misleading correlations”.

It 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.

Unaoil provides services to oil companies in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

Fairfax and the Huffington Post, citing leaked documents, reported that unidentified government contracts worth billions of dollars were awarded on the basis of bribes, many of which were organized by Unaoil.

Authorities in Monaco subsequently raided Unaoil’s offices and the homes of its directors.

Fairfax and the Huffington Post could not be reached for immediate comment.

The reports led Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to direct the country’s highest corruption watchdog to investigate claims of graft in the awarding of oil contracts and urged the courts to prosecute.

It also prompted a number of companies, including Italy’s Eni, to disavow publicly any contact with Unaoil.

Unaoil said it was “engaging” with authorities in Britain over the matter.

“We will be vigorously defending ourselves and are exploring all legal options,” Unaoil said.

A spokeswoman for Unaoil in London, Salamander Davoudi, declined to elaborate or make further comment. (Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Robert Birsel)