The Huffington Post has published the results of a major international bribery investigation into a company called Unaoil, which is apparently something of a global bribery fixer outfit responsible for helping multinational corporations do business with unsavory failed state types and paving the way for terrorist organizations.
Hundreds of major international corporations — including Halliburton, its former subsidiary KBR, Rolls-Royce and Samsung — counted on Unaoil to secure lucrative contracts in Iraq, Kazakhstan, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and other countries in Africa, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union, tens of thousands of internal emails and documents reveal. It’s common for large multinational corporations to partner with smaller firms with local expertise to win contracts. But in many cases, Unaoil wasn’t winning contracts because of its expertise — it was winning them by paying millions of dollars in bribes to corrupt officials.
Most of the companies that worked with Unaoil denied involvement in corrupt activities. “KBR is committed to conducting its business honestly, with integrity, and in compliance with all applicable laws,” a spokeswoman said. “We do not tolerate illegal or unethical practices by our employees or others working on behalf of the Company.” Samsung “has always complied with the laws and regulations when performing business,” the company said. Rolls-Royce, which sent a Unaoil subsidiary a letter in 2013 suspending the relationship, citing corruption allegations, said that it is “co-operating with the authorities and do not comment on ongoing investigations. We have made it clear that Rolls-Royce will not tolerate business misconduct of any kind.”
By aiding the corruption of already-distrusted regimes and accelerating the flow of money and resources out of poor countries, Unaoil and its partners were risking far more than fines and criminal penalties. They were creating political instability, turning citizens against their governments, and fueling the rage that would erupt during the Arab Spring — and be exploited by terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Companies and individuals pay at least $1 trillion in bribes to public sector officials annually, according to an estimate by Daniel Kaufman, a governance expert with the World Bank Institute.
The Unaoil emails don’t show corrupt third-world kleptocracies shaking down helpless western corporations. They show the opposite: Unaoil, working for western companies, is seen slowly corrupting foreign officials, starting off with small gifts and shopping sprees and eventually hooking them on major graft.
“There is always somebody who pays,” the billionaire hedge fund magnate George Soros has said, “and international business is generally the main source of corruption.” That’s part of the story that terrorists have long told local populations to justify jihadist insurgency. In many of the cases uncovered here, it happens to be true.
I'm not surprised that international corporations are involved in blood money in order to move products and resources through other companies to hide that involvement. I'm more that a bit concerned however at the number of companies that all used Unaoil to grease the skids over the last decade or so and basically nobody noticed.
Based in Monaco but incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, Unaoil says it provides “industrial solutions to the energy sector in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.” It was founded in 1991 by Ata Ahsani, an Iranian-born millionaire who left the country after the 1979 revolution. The company’s work, Ahsani told HuffPost and Fairfax Media, is “very basic. What we do is integrate western technology with local capability.” Two of Ata Ahsani’s sons, Cyrus and Saman, are deeply involved in the company’s day-to-day operations.
Here’s how Unaoil’s schemes often worked. During the time frame covered by the documents — most of which date from the end of 2003 to the middle of 2011 — Unaoil’s practice was to ask its partners for a percentage of the revenue from any contracts Unaoil helped them win. Once Unaoil made sure it had a stake in its client’s business, it would sometimes use a portion of its cut to bribe government officials — and keep the rest for itself.
They say the simplest schemes are the most tried and true methods, I guess. All we need is a fabulous desert casino, a car chase in Abu Dhabi or Tunis, some Russian mobsters, and an exotic assassin or three and James Bond would be damn proud. Throw in the angle that these bribes are going to everyone from tinpot dictators to terror groups like AQ and IS and you wonder just how much blowback we've avoided here in the US that we're more than due.
Because insurgents thrive when Western-friendly governments become corrupt and weak, they are especially pleased when the U.S. and Western corporations undermine governance by enabling corruption. As Soros said, somebody has to pay the bribes. Corruption in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, has only gotten worse since the U.S. invaded, bringing western corporations and money with it. Between 2003 and 2015, Iraq fell from 113th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index to 161st. “We’ve learned our lesson kind of the hard way,” said Keith Henderson, who evaluated Iraqi anti-corruption efforts for the State Department in 2008 and now teaches at American University’s law school. “If you don’t do something to abate or address corruption in state institutions, one of the very probable outcomes is civil unrest and possible insurgency.”
We'll see where this all goes. The US government is definitely looking into bribery fueling terrorism, but how far are they going to get when the major players paying up have bought the same governments investigating them?