Yorkshire businessman Stephen Whiteley found guilty of multi-million pound Iraq oil bribery plot

A businessman from Yorkshire has been convicted of a £5m bribery plot to win lucrative oil deals.

Stephen Whiteley, 65, and co-defendant Ziad Akle, 45, were found guilty at the Old Bailey of involvement in a corrupt plan to secure Iraqi contracts worth 800 million US dollars (£650.7 million) in the wake of Saddam Hussein being overthrown in 2003.

Whiteley, a previous vice president for SBM who is from Beverley, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to make corrupt payments following a trial which had been halted due to the coronavirus pandemic. Akle, a British Lebanese national who lives in Marylebone, London, was convicted of two counts of the same offence.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Both stood trial alongside Paul Bond, 68, over whom the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Bond faces a retrial on the two counts the jury did not reach verdicts on.

A businessman from Yorkshire has been convicted of a 5m bribery plot to win lucrative oil deals.

A fourth man, Basil Al-Jarah, 71, from Hull, earlier pleaded guilty to the bribery conspiracy and awaits sentence.

The trial had heard that the infrastructure needed to produce and distribute crude oil in Iraq had become old and dilapidated during the Hussein regime.

As part of reconstruction efforts, the Iraqi Ministry of Oil planned to increase production by acquiring three single point mooring (SPM) buoys in the Persian Gulf to allow tankers to load oil offshore.

The ministry also sought two new pipelines to take the oil by land and sea from storage tanks near the oil fields and processing facilities to the buoys.

Basra-based South Oil Company, a state-owned firm, was put in charge of the project for the ministry.

One of the businesses hoping to cash in through commission was Monaco-based Unaoil, the court was told.

Unaoil allied itself with Dutch-based company SBM Offshore, which won the contract for the supply of the buoys.

It also helped Singapore company Leighton Offshore to land the contract for laying the two pipelines and installation of the buoys.

In each case, it was alleged that Unaoil paid bribes to the South Oil Company’s project manager.

Once recommendations to the Ministry of Oil had been obtained, Unaoil – via an intermediary – bribed senior officials at the ministry to secure the two contracts, prosecutors for the Serious Fraud Office said.

In all, Unaoil paid bribes totalling some six million US dollars (£4.9 million) for the two contracts, together worth around 800 million US dollars (£650.7 million), the court heard.

In return, Unaoil was paid commission for the deals as well as the sub-contract for onshore work, the court heard.

The Unaoil group was founded by British-Iranian Ata Ahsani and had its headquarters in Monaco. Mr Ahsani’s sons, Cyrus and Saman, held senior positions within the company.

The defendants were charged with conspiring to pay the bribes with the three Ahsani family members who controlled Unaoil.

None of the Ahsanis were defendants in the British trial, which had transferred from Southwark Crown Court to the Old Bailey because of the coronavirus crisis.

The verdicts can be reported after Judge Martin Beddoe lifted reporting restrictions at Southwark Crown Court on Monday.

Al-Jarah, Akle and Whiteley will be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court next week.

Commenting after the reporting restrictions were lifted, Serious Fraud Office director Lisa Osofsky said: “These men dishonestly and corruptly took advantage of a government reeling from dictatorship and occupation, and trying to reconstruct a war-torn state.

“They abused the system to cut out competitors and line their own pockets.

“It is our mission to pursue and bring to justice those who use criminal means to weaken the integrity of business.”