Petrofac Tunisie Caught Up in a Big Corruption Scandal

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Due to political pressure and economic blackmail, the Petrofac crisis in Kerkennah was finally resolved. But the British company’s litigation process is still ongoing. Ten years after illegally acquiring the Chergui gas field, the company is caught up in the corruption scandal of the Unaoil Leaks. A public procurement rigging-case has come to light; one that corroborates facts already established by the National Commission of Investigation on corruption and financial wrongdoing.

We, therefore, presently embark on a new investigation of bribery in the petroleum sector, a great national financier whose corrupt governance continues to stir up social unrest and demands for accountability.

The Unaoil Leaks are the thousands of leaked mails from within Unaoil company, obtained by the Australian journalists of Fairfax Media. These documents reveal that, between 2002 and 2012, oil contracts worth billions of dollars were obtained by dozens of Western groups, thanks to a sprawling network of corrupt agents who operate within a chain of intermediaries and intercessors including politicians, civil servants, businessmen, officials of private and public oil companies, and bankers.

As part of a collaboration with Fairfax Media, we have gained access to this wealth of information that complements the bleak picture of financial and administrative corruption in the hydrocarbon sector in Tunisia. The Unaoil Leaks provide a better understanding of the role of actors in the bribe system that has been used to manipulate public procurement, circumvent laws and manipulate taxation. From the outset, we spot names pinned by the investigation of the National Commission of investigation on corruption and financial wrongdoing. We also note that the Unaoil Leaks coincide with the Panama Papers and the Swiss Leaks, with the ubiquity of the tax law firm Mossack Fonseca, from which the Panama Papers were leaked, as well as the investment office Bedrock Monaco, through which the business lawyer Samir Abdelli had passed. HSBC and Citibank are also listed, two banks known in Tunisia for sheltering the assets of the Trabelsi-Ben Ali circle and Tunisian businessmen pinned in the Swiss Leaks.

The Chergui Case: a Mere Distraction?

Since the disclosure of these leaks, the international judicial machinery has been set in motion. The Serious Fraud Office is looking at the case of Petrofac among other things. Several leaders of the British company are implicated in bribes in Syria, Iraq, Kazakhstan and Kuwait, including Peter Warner, CEO of Petrofac Emirates and executive vice president of sales and marketing, appointed in 2014 to the Board of the Unaoil Group. In Tunisia, the scandal involves Imed Derouiche, CEO of the offshore branch of Petrofac-Tunisia, along with officials of public oil companies and Tunisian and Libyan businessmen involved with the Trabelsi-Ben Ali clan. Just as the name of Imed Derouiche evokes that of Amjad Bseisu, former executive director of Petrofac in the still-pending file of the Chergui gas field in Kerkennah, which the judicial and financial authorities have been investigating for the last five years.

The revelations of Unaoil Leaks shed new light on the facts set out in the investigation report of the National Commission of Inquiry on Corruption and Malversation, and show that Imed Derouiche is a key intermediary in this system of bribes and market rigging. This "energy expert" who started as an engineer at ETAP, combines the consulting missions by working on behalf of several companies including Petrofac and Carthago Oil Tunisia. This company is run by businessman Mzoughi Mzabi, whom a diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks in July 2006 links to Slim Chiboub who is notoriously known for the use of fictitious companies through the Mzabi family. Slim Chiboub acquired shares in Voyageur Oil and Gas Company in 2009 through Derouiche, who would be one of the company's shareholders. Since 2011, Slim Chiboub, son-in-law of former President Ben Ali, has been indicted in 12 corruption cases, including the case of Anadarko Tunisia Beks Company.

Derouiche was also "the right arm of Moncef Trabelsi", brother-in-law of President Ben Ali, in the oil company Transmed. The latter was charged in 2011 in the Chergui gas field case, which he confessed to conceding to Amjad Bseisu, then executive director of Petrofac Energy Developments International Ltd., in exchange for a commission of 2 million dollars. Following these confessions, no investigation was opened in the United Kingdom. In 2014, Amjad Bseisu, who later became executive director of EnQuest, was appointed as business ambassador for British trade, along with Ayman Asfari, the current executive director of Petrofac.

Concluded in opaque conditions, the Chergui contract forced ETAP to cede the concession and operating costs to the British company, thereby losing its advantage over certain gas discoveries. This transaction allowed the British company, usually operating in the field of engineering, to earn its first strip in the production of hydrocarbons.

In 2013, Imed Derouiche was appointed head the offshore branch of Petrofac-Tunisia. But the new CEO stumbled against the social unrest that blocked the production of the Chergui deposits for months. On the island that is weakened by unemployment, climate change and pollution, the oil wealth turned into a curse. In addition to Petrofac, the three offshore companies, British Gaz, TPS and Select, which operate along the archipelago, endorse a social responsibility that is neither commensurate with the farmers' incomes nor with the inhabitants’ expectations. Moncef Trabelsi’s former partner describes this dispute as a "social racket", claiming that Petrofac injects 12% onshore gas into domestic production, which currently covers only 63% Of the country's needs, half of which is supplied by British Gas. These figures, in fact, obscure the doubtful accounts of western oil companies and the failure of public interveners to control the commitments of these companies. The 27th report of the Court of Auditors concerning the natural gas sector, which covers the period 2007-2010, points to a management of oil revenue relinquishing 11% of gas production, in addition to the  plundering of gas and oil by foreign companies.

Among the excesses found in the Court's report were irregularities in invoicing and unpaid penalties, as in the case of Miskar and Hasdrubal, two concessions held by British Gas in the Gulf of Gabes. The Unaoil Leaks mention the Hasdrubal gas field and the Hannibal station, whose engineering and construction work was carried out in 2006 by Petrofac. That year, thanks to its "energy expert", the company won its first two major projects in Tunisia: Hasdrubal and Chergui. But at what price?

Unaoil and the Forty Thieves ... of Oil

At the heart of the scandal lies Unaoil company, a discreet mediator that negotiates questionable deals between notoriously corrupt governments and large multinational companies. Based in Monaco, Unaoil is run by the millionaire Ata Ahsani and his two sons Cyrus and Saman, a family introduced into the cenacle of great fortunes and international investors. On its website, the company describes itself as an intermediary that "minimizes local obstacles" for large international groups. But this description leaves out the commissions this company pays on behalf of its clients to the intermediaries responsible for leaking sensitive information and exploiting their influence to manage tender calls.

In a survey titled "The Machine to Corrupt", The Age shows how Unaoil has sought to infiltrate the oil market in the Middle East, extending its greed to Asia and Africa, to the benefit of dozens of Petroleum companies. During the negotiations, millions of dollars were distributed in bribe to local intermediaries in Libya, on behalf of companies such as the American giants Halliburton and Honeywell, Saipem, Siemens, Sulzer, Total, and Technip in Iraq, Syria, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Angola, Kazakhstan, and Tunisia. Executives from Western oil companies were also bribed, such as Petrofac, ENI, Tecnicas Reunidas and Rosetti Marino, to raise lucrative markets, sometimes at the expense of their own companies, and share the retro-commission cake with Unaoil. Australian journalists were able to decipher the code names used by Unaoil employees. For example, ENI is called "spaghettihouse", and "teacher" refers to Iraqi oil minister Hussein al-Shahristani. At the latest news, a fire conveniently devastated the office of the resigning minister, shortly before the arrival of the international investigators.

Without banking and tax havens, these illicit transactions would not have been possible, as can be seen in the dozens of fictitious companies established by Unaoil in the British Virgin Islands, Marshall Islands, Singapore and Dubai. The Ahasanis use these companies to sign representation or consultation agreements with major oil companies. When Unaoil wins a contract for a customer, it collects a percentage of the total contract amount as a fee, then gratifies its employees with a success bonus. Then, lump sums, sometimes amounting to millions of dollars, are paid to "consultants" who are in fact local intermediaries, inevitably connected to intercessors introduced to the highest summit of the State.

The next part of our investigation will go into more detail with regard to this case of public procurement and the role played by a network of Tunisian, Libyan and foreign agents in capturing oil revenues in favor of Unaoil, its customers, and the Trabelsi-Ben Ali clan.

** I WATCH contacted Mr. Imed Derouiche to allow him to give his version of the facts set out in this article. We have no response from him until now.

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