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Three businessmen in court over claims they paid bribes for Iraqi oil contracts

THREE businessmen will stand trial in London over allegations that they conspired to make corrupt payments to win oil contracts in Iraq.

At a directions hearing today, Judge Martin Beddoe said the trial at Southwark Crown Court of Paul Bond, Stephen Whiteley and Ziad Akle should begin on January 20, 2020 and could last until the end of April.

The bribery case centres on the energy giant Unaoil, whose staff are being prosecuted by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

The company is also being pursued by the Department of Justice (DoJ) in the US, where prosecutors announced on Wednesday that three senior Unaoil personnel had pleaded guilty to facilitating bribes.

That trio, who are all British residents, includes the brothers Cyrus and Saman Ahsani – both members of the powerful family that owns Unaoil – as well as a former company director, Steven Hunter.

All three men admitted to paying bribes in Libya, with the Ahsani brothers also confessing to corruption in Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, DRC, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan and Syria.

In July, Unaoil’s ex-Iraq manager Basil Al Jarah pleaded guilty to five offences of conspiracy to give corrupt payments, after he was targeted by the SFO.

In the US, Cyrus Ahsani, 51, and Saman Ahsani, 46, are due to be sentenced on April 20 next year in Texas. Mr Hunter will be sentenced on March 13, 2020.

WHAT IS THE UNAOIL SCANDAL?

The allegations against Monaco-based Unaoil have been described as the world’s largest bribery scandal, after a leaked cache of emails obtained by Fairfax media in Australia sparked probes around the world.

In Britain, the Treasury awarded the SFO extra funding to prosecute the company’s officials, who are accused of facilitating corruption across the oil industry.

Prestige brands such as Rolls-Royce are among the companies that have said they hired Unaoil for various work.

On Wednesday, the DoJ said that between 1999 and 2016, the Ahsani brothers “conspired with others, including multiple companies and individuals, to make millions of dollars in bribe payments to government officials” in nine countries.

Further, they “laundered the proceeds of their bribery scheme in order to promote and conceal the schemes.”

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