SYDNEY, June 14 (Reuters) - Monaco-based oil services company Unaoil said on Tuesday it was launching legal action against Australia’s Fairfax Media group, publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald, over reports linking it to corrupt practices involving big oil companies.
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 allegations and said that it had been the victim of an extortion attempt by unidentified criminals.
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 has instructed its lawyers to commence legal action against Fairfax Media and its partners in relation to the malicious and damaging allegations negligently published by these media organisations and repeated by other media organisations globally,” Unaoil said in a statement.
“Unaoil estimates its damages to be over $100 million and intends to hold Fairfax Media and its partners to account for their irresponsible and injurious reporting.”
Unaoil did not say when it would sue and it has not said what its legal claim is, other than to refer to theft of company data and harm to reputation.
A spokesman for Fairfax Media could not immediately be reached for comment by Reuters by telephone or email.
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 organised by Unaoil.
Authorities in Monaco subsequently raided Unaoil’s offices and the homes of its directors.
A spokeswoman for The Huffington Post could not immediately be reached for comment by telephone or email. The outlet has previously said it stood by its reporting.
The reports led Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to direct the country’s highest corruption watchdog to investigate suspicion 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. (Reporting by Matt Siegel; Editing by Robert Birsel)