MUSCAT (Reuters) - A court sentenced the CEO of state-owned Oman Oil Company to a total of 23 years in jail on Thursday for accepting bribes, abuse of office and money laundering, the most severe punishment meted out in a series of corruption trials that began last year.
The judge at the Court of First Instance in Muscat also convicted Adel al-Raisi, a former aide to the minister of the now-dissolved economy ministry, of organizing a bribe made by a senior official at a South Korea-based firm to Oman Oil Company CEO, Ahmad al-Wahaibi, and sentenced him to 10 years in jail.
The court found the vice CEO of the Korean-based LGI, named in court as Myung Jao Yoo, guilty of paying $8 million to a Caribbean-registered company owned by Wahaibi after winning a billion rial petrochemical project in Sohar Port in Oman.
Myung was also jailed for 10 years. LGI was not immediately available for comment on the court’s verdict.
Oman’s Sultan Qaboos has waged an anti-graft campaign to defuse mass protests in several Omani cities in 2011 that were mainly directed against graft and to demand jobs, issues that fuelled uprisings around the Arab world in the same year.
More than 20 civil servants and businessmen have gone on trial in Oman since last year.
Court documents said the latest case dated back to 2011, when Omani authorities were informed by their Swiss counterparts about suspicious transactions involving Wahaibi’s Swiss bank account. The trial began in December last year.
Oman Oil Company is an investment arm of the government of Oman with over 40 investments inside and outside Oman.
Wahaibi admitted in court to receiving money from Myung but pleaded not guilty to the charge of taking bribes, saying he “didn’t know why LGI transferred $8 million” into his company.
Raisi also pleaded not guilty. He said his confessions during questioning were not genuine and that he only admitted brokering the deal and receiving the money under pressure.
Myung admitted in court that he had received money from Wahaibi but said he did not remember why. “Maybe it was a birthday gift. I don’t remember,” he told the court.
Apart from the prison sentences, Raisi and Myung were each fined 4 million rials. Myung would be deported after serving his sentence, the court ruled.
Oman Oil Company said in a statement it was committed to “enforcing a stringent code of ethics and corporate governance practices across all levels of the organization”.
Its Deputy CEO, Mulham Al Jarf, said he was given the “rights, responsibilities and authorities of the CEO in August 2013 to ensure that the business operations of the company remain uninterrupted,” the statement added.
At the hearings, Wahaibi admitted that after the cash was deposited into the accounts of his company, he had given the two other defendants their shares of the cash.
The court sentenced Wahaibi to 10 years in jail and fined him 4 million rials ($10.39 million) for accepting bribes, 10 years for money laundering and one million rials and three years in prison for abuse of office.
The court also confiscated all the bribe money in his frozen Swiss bank account. Lawyers confirmed Wahaibi’s sentences would run successively.
($1 = 0.3850 Omani rials)
Reporting by Fatma Al Arimi; Writing by Sami Aboudi; editing by William Maclean and Jon Boyle