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Senegal's opposition calls for inquiry on BP gas deal

DAKAR (Reuters) - A group of opposition politicians in Senegal called on Monday for an investigation of the history of two major offshore gas blocks run by BP after a report alleging fraud involving President Macky Sall’s brother Aliou Sall.

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The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on Monday published an investigation alleging that in a previously unpublished arrangement, BP agreed to pay Timis Corporation, a company run by Romanian-Australian tycoon Frank Timis, around $10 billion (7.9 billion pounds) in royalty payments for its stake in the blocks.

The report said the early history of the acreage, which contains one of the largest deposits of gas in the world, was mired by fraud involving Timis, who has mining and energy interests across Africa.

The BBC alleged that Timis in 2014 secretly paid $250,000 to a company run by Aliou Sall called Agritrans, based on a trove of documents it reviewed.

It said Timis also paid Aliou Sall $1.5 million in salary over five years for his work in Petro-Tim, the company originally given the blocks before Timis Corporation, and that he was also offered $3 million in shares in Timis companies.

Aliou Sall denied receiving the $250,000 payment from Timis and called the BBC’s report “totally false”.

BP said in a statement that it “rejects any implication that it acted improperly in the acquisition of our interests in Senegal” and that it “conducted extensive and appropriate due diligence” before acquiring the licence. It said the $10 billion figure quoted by the BBC was “wholly inaccurate”.

Timis was not reachable for comment, but he told the BBC in a statement that there had been “no wrongdoing whatsoever”.

Senegal’s offshore oil and gas reserves have the potential to transform the impoverished West African country when they start flowing in the next decade, likely in volumes rivalling some of the region’s biggest producers.

The blocks, called Cayar Offshore Profond and St. Louis Profond, have caused controversy since 2012, when a previously unknown company called Petro-Tim was unexpectedly awarded the licence despite having no known track record in the industry. Soon after, the president’s brother was hired at the company.

Protests against the deal erupted in the capital Dakar in 2016, casting a shadow over Sall’s first term.

“The public prosecutor must immediately initiate actions to unravel fraudulent and corrupt contracts,” said an influential group of opposition organisations called the Conference of Leaders, which includes former and current senior politicians.

They said the National Assembly should “initiate measures that will require those responsible for the crimes to appear before the High Court of Justice.”

Reporting by Edward McAllister and Juliette Jabkhiro; Editing by Dan Grebler