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Wednesday
Mar292017

UK High Court upholds SFO in search against Unaoil

A court in London Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit by Unaoil and its controlling family to quash the fruits of a search police in Monaco conducted last year at the request of the UK Serious Fraud Office.

The lawsuit alleged the SFO relied on misstatements and omissions when it asked authorities in Monaco to raid offices and homes connected to Unaoil and its chairman Ata Ahsani, and his sons Cyrus and Saman.

Cyrus is the former chief executive of Unaoil and Saman is the chief operating officer.

The Ahsanis are British citizens living in Monaco.

The SFO said in July last year it was "conducting a criminal investigation into the activities of Unaoil, its officers, its employees and its agents in connection with suspected offenses of bribery, corruption and money laundering."

The SFO opened its investigation in March 2016 but didn't announce it until later. The agency said in July it had "been approached by a number of sources who may have information relevant to this investigation." 

Unaoil and the Ahsanis have denied the allegations of corruption.

The SFO sent a Letter of Request (LOR) to authorities in Monaco on March 23, 2016 asking for help with the investigation.

The SFO said in the LOR that it had "intelligence to suggest that the main allegations will be published on an international news website on the 30th March 2016 and [we] believe that this may prompt the destruction of the relevant evidence being requested….. "

Acting on the LOR, authorities in Monaco conducted the raids on the offices and homes on March 29. They seized documents, computers, and other property.

A report on March 30, 2016 by Fairfax Media and the Huffington Post said Unaoil paid bribes on behalf of large companies in the oil and gas sector.

The three Ahsanis "were arrested and later interviewed in both Monaco and here," the UK High Court said.

Unaoil and the Ahsanis brought their lawsuit in London to quash the LOR. They said it was vague and "a fishing expedition."

In ruling for the SFO (and awarding it costs), the High Court said Wednesday the LOR was based on material the SFO already had -- "notably internal Unaoil emails and documentation."

That material suggested "that Ata, Cyrus and Asam Ahsani . . . paid bribes and/or conspired together to pay bribes to high-ranking Iraqi public officials on behalf of Unaoil clients," the High Court said.

"The LOR recounted details going to allegations of Unaoil dealings with Iraqi officials exercising influence with regard to the award of contracts to Leighton and likewise Rolls Royce," the court said.

The SFO hasn't brought charges yet against any individuals as a result of the Unaoil investigation.

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.