UNAOIL: The Company that Bribed the World PEPS

In the list of the world's great companies, Unaoil is nowhere to be seen. But for the best part of the past two decades, the family business from Monaco has systematically corrupted the global oil industry, distributing many millions of dollars worth of bribes on behalf of corporate behemoths including Samsung, Rolls-Royce, Halliburton and Australia's own Leighton Holdings.  Now a vast cache of leaked emails and documents has confirmed what many suspected about the oil industry, and has laid bare the activities of the world's super-bagman as it has bought off officials and rigged contracts around the world.

A massive leak of confidential documents has for the first time exposed the true extent of corruption within the oil industry, implicating dozens of leading companies, bureaucrats and politicians in a sophisticated global web of bribery and graft.

After a six-month investigation across two continents, Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post can reveal that billions of dollars of government contracts were awarded as the direct result of bribes paid on behalf of firms including British icon Rolls-Royce, US giant Halliburton, Australia’s Leighton Holdings and Korean heavyweights Samsung and Hyundai.

The investigation centres on a Monaco company called Unaoil, run by the jet-setting Ahsani clan. Following a coded ad in a French newspaper, a series of clandestine meetings and midnight phone calls led to our reporters obtaining hundreds of thousands of the Ahsanis’ leaked emails and documents.

The trove reveals how they rub shoulders with royalty, party in style, mock anti-corruption agencies and operate a secret network of fixers and middlemen throughout the world’s oil producing nations.

Corruption in oil production - one of the world's richest industries and one that touches us all through our reliance on petrol - fuels inequality, robs people of their basic needs and causes social unrest in some of the world's poorest countries. It was among the factors that prompted the Arab Spring.

Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post today reveal how Unaoil carved up portions of the Middle East oil industry for the benefit of Western companies between 2002 and 2012.

In part two we will turn to the impoverished former Russian states to reveal the extent of misbehaviour by multinational companies including Halliburton. We will conclude the three-part investigation by showing how corrupt practices have extended deep into Asia and Africa. 

The leaked files reveal that some people in these firms believed they were hiring a genuine lobyyist, and others who new or suspected they were funding bribery simply turned a blind eye. 

The leaked files expose as corrupt two Iraqi oil ministers, a fixer linked to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, senior officials from Libya’s Gaddafi regime, Iranian oil figures, powerful officials in the United Arab Emirates and a Kuwaiti operator known as “the big cheese”.

Western firms involved in Unaoil’s Middle East operation include some of the world’s wealthiest and most respected companies: Rolls-Royce and Petrofac from Britain; US companies FMC Technologies, Cameron and Weatherford; Italian giants Eni and Saipem; German companies MAN Turbo (now know as MAN Diesal & Turbo) and Siemens; Dutch firm SBM Offshore; and Indian giant Larsen & Toubro. They also show the offshore arm of Australian company Leighton Holdings was involved in serious, calculated corruption.

The leaked files reveal that some people in these firms believed they were hiring a genuine lobbyist, and others who knew or suspected they were funding bribery simply turned a blind eye.

The leaked files expose as corrupt two Iraqi oil ministers, a fixer linked to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, senior officials from Libya’s Gaddafi regime, Iranian oil figures, powerful officials in the United Arab Emirates and a Kuwaiti operator known as “the big cheese”.

Western firms involved in Unaoil’s Middle East operation include some of the world’s wealthiest and most respected companies: Rolls-Royce and Petrofac from Britain; US companies FMC Technologies, Cameron and Weatherford; Italian giants Eni and Saipem; German companies MAN Turbo (now know as MAN Diesal & Turbo) and Siemens; Dutch firm SBM Offshore; and Indian giant Larsen & Toubro. They also show the offshore arm of Australian company Leighton Holdings was involved in serious, calculated corruption.



It is the Monaco company that almost perfected the art of corruption.

It is called Unaoil and it is run by members of the Ahsani family - Monaco millionaires who rub shoulders with princes, sheikhs and Europe's and America’s elite business crowd. At the head are family patriarch Ata Ahsani and his two dashing sons, Cyrus and Saman. Their charities support the arts and children, and Ahsani family members sit on the boards of NGOs with ex-politicians and billionaires. Ten years ago, a spreadsheet showed they had cash, shares and property worth 190 million euros. They are members of the global elite.

Its operatives then bribe officials in oil-producing nations to help these clients win government-funded projects. The corrupt officials might rig a tender committee. Or leak inside information. Or ensure a contract is awarded without a competitive tender.

If you believe Ata Ahsani, it’s all above board: “We are not in the business of fixing jobs for people. Our work is basically very basic. What we do is integrate Western technology with local capability,” he told Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post.

Did Unaoil bribe public officials? “The answer is absolutely no”.

But the evidence of their own internal email cache, leaked to Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post, clearly demonstrates that the multi-million dollar fees Unaoil takes from its clients are funnelled into an industrial scale bribery operation which further entrenches corruption among the powerful few.

Bankers in New York and London have facilitated Unaoil’s money laundering, while the Ahsanis have built a major property investment business in central London. Since 2007, Unaoil has been certified by anti-corruption agency Trace International. This in itself raises serious questions about the worth of such international accreditation.

But for the Western companies confronted with questions under anti foreign bribery laws in their own jurisdictions, Unaoil appears to be a reputable and discrete middle-man, giving listed businesses what is known as “plausible deniability”.

Companies approached by Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post about their contracts with Unaoil have emphasised they have strong anti-corruption policies, and are committed to investigating their dealings with Unaoil.



After the US led coalition won the second gulf war, it went to guard the oil ministry - leaving the Baghdad museum undefended to be looted of its treasures.

But they did not save the oil industry from thieves. The Unaoil files reveal that Western companies, in concert with Iraq’s new elite, themselves began a sustained campaign of looting.

Unaoil paid at least $25 million in bribes via middlemen to secure the support of powerful officials - while complaining internally that they were “assholes, and greedy”.

Between 2004 and 2012, Unaoil corruptly influenced a Who’s Who of the country’s oil industry: the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq turned education minister Hussain al-Shahristani; Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi (who was replaced in 2014); the Director General of the South Oil Company, Dhia Jaffar al-Mousawi, who in 2015 became a deputy minister; and top oil official Oday al-Quraishi.

The most senior politicians received multi-million dollar lump sums, while those lower down the food chain were paid lesser amounts. Quraishi, who oversaw Iraq’s most important oil industry expansion project, pocketed a monthly kickback of $US6000 – “$5K for him, and $1k he needs for presents to people within” – along with additional large pay-offs.

The minister, Dr Shahristani, who is now Iraq’s education minister, denied he had been involved in any wrongdoing. Other Iraqi officials did not respond to requests to comment.

Unaoil also bribed senior insiders working for the international oil companies which were contracted by Iraq to manage its oil fields. The leaked files reveal rampant corruption inside Italian oil giant Eni, which ran the tender processes for contractors working on the giant Zubair oil field.

Unaoil’s clients in Iraq included British giant Rolls-Royce, US firms FMC Technologies and Cameron, Italy’s Saipem, German company MAN Turbo, the US listed Weatherford, Dutch company SBM Offshore and Australia’s Leighton Offshore.


Everything works and progresses on connections, relations with special talent”. So wrote an Iranian fixer, part of Unaoil’s remarkable network of insiders dedicated to paying and pocketing bribes. After the recent relaxing of United Nations, US and European sanctions, this network has become even more valuable.

In 2006, this Unaoil operative complained in emails that one of the company’s clients, UK firm Weir Pumps (now owned by US firm SPX), owed him hundreds of thousands of dollars which he had promised to use in part to sling to others in Iran.

“[It] is the end of Iranian new year here, expectations high, I am short in cash, and about five million pounds of business with Weir [is] in danger… Because I can not fulfill my obligations to my team of Supporters.”

If the money was not forthcoming, he warned, Weir Pumps risked “melting like a piece of ice, day by day.”

“…over half a million dollars of my consultancy fee… I have already spend it for the promotion of their businesses in Iran.”

A separate set of leaked memos from 2006 said Unaoil would pay “10 k/month” to secure the support of the managing director of a firm chaired by a high ranking Iranian official, part owned by an Iranian government entity and overseen by a board with “political influence.”

“MD [managing director]… wants $10k/month. AA [Ata Ahsani of Unaoil] agree to this given his excellent connections.”

Unaoil’s Iranian network – which was also used to assist firms such as ABB, Elliott and Japan’s Yokogawa – extends beyond the oil industry. In 2011, Unaoil helped solve a dispute involving one of its Australian clients by reaching out to “several influential contacts… including the head of the Iranian Police”.

Prior to the recent easing of sanctions, Unaoil used strategies including front companies to avoid the scrutiny of Western officials. It advised its corrupt fixers to not wire funds using US dollars and to use companies “not having the name Iran in it”.


In 2004, when the West began removing sanctions against Libya, and the regime of Colonel Gaddafi started dealing with foreign companies, Unaoil stood ready.

By 2011, its network of corrupt insiders included officials and front men able to influence the dealings of many of Libya’s most important oil and gas agencies.

In late 2008, a Canadian drilling firm, Canuck Completions, told Unaoil it was “curious about … what type of Baksheesh is needed to present to these men in order to get work” in Libya.

Among Unaoil’s corrupt insiders was the powerful Libyan official, Mustafa Zarti, a confidant for the Gaddafi regime. Unaoil’s files describe Zarti as “good friends of President Ghadafi's [sic] son of Libya and have lot of influence in lobbying the jobs in Libya”. Unaoil agreed to secretly pay Zarti millions of dollars. In return he would use his influence to advantage Unaoil’s clients.

“MZ [Zarti] sits on the board of LFIC [Libyan Foreign Investment Committee] … which controls… Oil fund ($6bn) … He sees his role as us executing and him fixing issues we come across. MZ has agreed to bring all his oil & gas work to us,” a September 2006 Unaoil memo said.

Unaoil’s multinational clients in Libya included Malaysian giant Ranhill, Korean conglomerate ISU and Spanish company Tecnicas Reunidas.


In Syria, Unaoil turned to a middleman close to the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

In 2008 and 2009, Unaoil promised the man 2.75 million euros who helped its British client Petrofac win contracts from Assad regime petroleum companies. “Strictly confidential” emails from 2008 show this middleman promised to pay others to win these contracts.

But when he was not paid on time, he complained the delays were causing problems with “friends” in Syria.

“It is becoming very unpleasant [sic] for me not delivering as expected,” he wrote to Unaoil in December 2009.

Petrofac is understood to be unaware of Unaoil’s involvement in its Syrian dealings and in response to questions said it “aspires to the highest standards of ethical behaviour”.

In Yemen, Unaoil paid millions to a. Swiss account belonging to fixer and businessman Haitham Alaini, the son of the former Yemeni prime minister. In return, Alaini used his contacts in the Yemen to help Unaoil.


In Kuwait, Unaoil had on its payroll a powerful official who they called “the big cheese.”

To direct a contract to Unaoil’s long term client in the Middle East, US firm FMC Technologies, Unaoil wanted a payment of $2.5 million. It then planned to assign a middleman to handle “the big cheese in Kuwait and to decide what portion… should go to that man”.

In the UAE, Unaoil’s network included a public official with links to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. The leaked Unaoil files reveal this official had commercial dealings with the Ahsanis who, in return, were seeking the official’s backing in the region. This included an entree to a project funded by the office of “His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed”.

Unaoil corrupted a senior official in a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi’s National Oil company. This insider rigged a tender panel for a Unaoil client, Indian conglomerate Larsen & Toubro.



Basil Al Jarah

Unaoil's Iraq country manager

Oday al-Quraishi

Iraqi oil bureaucrat

Hussain al-Shahristani

Iraqi deputy prime minister

Cyrus Ahsani

Unaoil CEO


There was little about the man walking through Heathrow Airport to show he held secrets that could bring down some of the most powerful men in Iraq.

Moustached, olive skinned, hair receding, eyes sharp. His name was Basil Al Jarah. His British passport showed he lived in Hull, an unremarkable town in the north of England, but it bore the stamps of a frequent traveller: London, Baghdad, Basra, Amman, Paris, Istanbul, Kuwait.

Basil Al Jarah was an oil industry fixer. But had authorities known his true business, they might have taken a far keener interest in the man waiting for a plane to Amman in 2011. Because by that stage, Al Jarah and his employer, a Monaco-based company called Unaoil, had cultivated an astonishing web of influence in the upper echelons of Iraqi power – all based on the simple expedient of bribing the right man at the right time.

As tens of thousands of secret emails reveal, Al Jarah and Unaoil were at the heart of a global bribery operation funded, sometimes wittingly, by dozens of US, British, European and Australian multinationals. These firms paid huge sums to Unaoil. In return, Unaoil used its friends in high places to win billions of dollars worth of government contracts.

In Iraq, the man charged with making those friends was Al Jarah. From 2003 onwards, he used his influence to help deliver huge contracts to Unaoil's clients. It did not matter if these clients were more expensive or less capable than their competitors. Unaoil and Al Jarah were, in effect, fleecing the people of Iraq, and in the process making a mockery of the US government's promise, after toppling Saddam Hussein, to ensure Iraq's oil wealth would benefit all Iraqis.

Al Jarah was careful to cover his tracks. He struck deals in hotel rooms late at night and used code words to communicate. To understand the scale of Unaoil’s Iraq operation, someone would have to break these codes. And to do that they would need access to thousands of emails. It is almost certain Al Jarah never believed this possible.

But last year, Fairfax Media and Huffington Post began investigating the underbelly of the global oil and gas industry. After many months of digging and a trip across Europe, our reporters uncovered a treasure trove of emails and memos. The 66-year-old former ship’s captain from Hull, Basil Al Jarah, was the author of many of the most colourful.

They reveal him routinely bribing government officials who were deemed “useful to us” and to Unaoil's clients – multinationals such as British firms Rolls-Royce, Petrofac and Clyde Pumps, US listed giants Weatherford, Cameron/Natco and FMC Technologies and European firms such Saipem, SBM Offshore and MAN Turbo.

The emails suggest that for years the very highest levels of Iraq's oil industry – up to and including the deputy prime minister – has been corrupted with impunity under the noses of Iraqi, British, European and US authorities. This despite strict laws in the west designed to prevent foreign bribery. They also tell us what Al Jarah's main goal was as he flew across Europe and the middle east that day early in 2011 — to influence two of the most powerful men in Iraq on behalf of a company that had agreed to pay bribes of up to $40 million.


In 2003, when US-led forces rolled into Baghdad, the oil ministry was among the sites designated for immediate protection. As looters stumbled out of museums clasping irreplaceable antiquities, coalition troops and tanks encircled the ministry building.

The message was clear. Iraq’s future lay beneath its blood-soaked earth, in some of the world's biggest oil reserves. The question was, who would benefit?

In 2006, three years after the invasion, as conflict raged on, US President George W Bush insisted that the oil belonged to the Iraqi people: “It's their asset,” he said. The US would help the new government of Nouri al-Maliki use the nation's resources to build a new Iraq.

That meant increasing oil production. It meant repairing wells. It meant new pipelines, infrastructure and technology. The government couldn't do it alone. It would need the expertise and resources of the giant American, British and European energy companies

To ensure a fair and transparent process, the Iraqi government sought to run competitive tenders. The Saddam era, when the foreigner who paid the biggest kickback won would win the job, had supposedly been consigned to history.

Unaoil, though, was old school. By the time of Bush's declaration, it had been operating in Iraq for three years, with Al Jarah as country manager. Unaoil favoured the old kickback system, albeit with a new crop of officials to be bribed.

A 2005 email illustrates their modus operandi. Al Jarah wrote to Unaoil colleagues about a meeting at Paris' Charles De Gaulle airport with a senior manager from US firm FMC Technologies. FMC's “past contacts who held sway in the old [Saddam Hussein] regime are worthless now,” he wrote.

“FMC must look to the future with new contacts and new faces. [FMC manager] requested time to disentangle himself from his current agent to sign up with Unaoil.”

According to his email, Al Jarah had struck a deal for Unaoil to get a 5 to 10 per cent cut of any contract it could win for FMC in Iraq or Kuwait. In Kuwait, for example, FMC had promised to pay Unaoil $2.5 million to win a $25 million contract. Unaoil could use a “portion” of that fee to pay-off “the big cheese in Kuwait”.


Al Jarah then approached a senior Iraq oil official, Kifah Numan, to help the US firm. FMC wanted to win contracts that had already been promised to its rivals. “I have to lean really heavy on Kifah to swing this if at all possible. I will start softening Kifah from tonight.”

Numan, in fact, features repeatedly in Al Jarah's emails. Once in Dubai, Al Jarah had to “baby sit [Numan] for 4-5 days” to ensure none of Unaoil's competitors made contact.

“He is too valuable to leave him lose [sic] in Dubai for other suppliers,” Al Jarah warned. Sometimes the attention was surprisingly personal, and trivial. Al Jarah spent “US$2,684.00 for Gifts for Mr Kifah during London visit”, including “Perfume, Various CD's, Mobile Top-Up and Leather Jacket”.

At the time, Al Jarah was duchessing Numan on behalf of Unaoil client Rolls-Royce, which was chasing generator supply contracts worth tens of millions of dollars.

“Getting hold of Kifah to just spend any time with him is a bonus other contractor/suppliers would give their right arm for. Hence spending $2,684 on a key decision maker and remain in his good books to process things … is worth 100 times that value, without which we would have no contract [for Rolls-Royce] in our hands now.”

In a later email, Al Jarah wrote that Numan had advised him that Unaoil and Rolls-Royce could charge the Iraqi government inflated prices, to ensure fatter profits.

“He advised that cost will be no object… I expect we should make a minimum of $2m per [Rolls-Royce generator] unit net. After all costs have been taken into account.”

Rolls-Royce has told Fairfax Media and Huffington Post that concerns about bribery involving intermediaries are being investigated by the British Serious Fraud Office “and other authorities”. Rolls-Royce is co-operating, said a spokesman, but “do not comment on ongoing investigations”.

In 2008, Numan became director general of the Iraq Government's powerful South Oil Company, which was in charge of the country's most valuable oil fields and infrastructure.

“Kifah called me yesterday,” wrote Al Jarah, “he still didn't know if the news is confirmed. He said he… is planning to come to Dubai next week while I am here … Don't know about you, I am having few beers today to celebrate.”

The response from Unaoil CEO Cyrus Ahsani was equally upbeat: “Excellent and let's see how we can quickly do certain things to make sure we are the only ones with access.”


At its heart, Unaoil is a family company. It was founded by the urbane septuagenarian Ata Ahsani. Iranian born Ahsani left Tehran at the time of the Islamic revolution. In 1991 he set up an oil consulting business in London and then Monaco.

There, he appointed his sons Cyrus and Saman to help him. Unaoil would eventually grow to 200 staff, but its dirty secrets – the bribes it paid to officials across the world – were only known to an inner circle that included Ata, Cyrus and Saman. And, of course, Basil Al Jarah.

In another email to Cyrus Ahsani, Al Jarah wrote he had promised tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks to “our new friends” inside the oil ministry. The money would help secure a contract to supply chemicals used in the oil refining process for listed giant Weatherford.

Under this contract, for every drum the oil ministry purchased from Weatherford, Unaoil paid a kickback to a group of senior Iraqi officials, including a figure code-named “Lighthouse”.

“Since the involvement this year of new friends in the Ministry; I shifted $5 from Jassim's share and gave it to the Ministry people. Total is still $13. Although I'd like to increase Lighthouse's share by $1-2, he has been the most helpful to us,” Al Jarah wrote.

A spokeswoman for Weatherford said the company had wound down its chemicals business and ceased dealing with Unaoil in 2013.

The man Unaoil codenamed Mr “Lighthouse” was a big deal in Iraq's south, where the nation's two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, meet and flow into the Persian Gulf. The land here is arid and flat, the weather extreme, from blistering heat to icy cold. Underground, though, south Iraq's oil fields are the prize of the nation. Control these and you control great wealth.

A Fairfax Media and Huffington Post investigation has uncovered an extraordinary story of bribery and corruption in the oil industry, centred on Monaco-based company Unaoil.

The seat of power in the south is Basra (also known as Basrah), Iraq's second largest city and home of the most powerful government owned oil company, the South Oil Company. The SOC was where “Lighthouse” built his empire. It was clear to Basil Al Jarah how influential he was.

Lighthouse's real name is Dhia Jaffar al-Mousawi.

“When Prime Minsters visit Basrah, he accompanies them first and holds private sessions with them,” Al Jarah wrote of Dhia Jaffar in 2008.

At the time, Al Jarah and Unaoil were focused on gradually softening Dhia Jaffar up with small bribes. When Cyrus Ahsani inquired how many bribes, Al Jarah replied:

“We haven't done much for him [Dhia Jaffar] really, but here is a list:

  1. Took him clothes shopping on two occasions (around $1-2K each time)
  2. Related sub agent got $30k for assistance with al Kassim order.
  3. Gave his son a 2 week English course in Dubai. Arranged interviews to employ the son in Adnan's company, but the boy found alternative work.
  4. For the past 8 months working on getting him a UAE residency visa, but without success.

That's it.”

When Dhia Jaffar considered running for Basra mayor, Al Jarah excitedly reported that the oil official was “on the Prime Minister's ticket” and he had “contributed $5k to his election campaign.”

“Basrah may also become regionally semi autonomous, which means the Mayor will sway tremendous power. So he will become very useful indeed.”

As Dhia Jaffar's star rose, Unaoil ramped up its campaign of corruption. First, a trip to Monaco. Eventually, bribes worth millions of dollars. The investment paid off: in 2009, Dhia Jaffar was appointed the Director General of the South Oil Company in 2009. In 2015 he became deputy minister for oil in the Iraq government.


There was another man vital to Unaoil's success in Iraq. Unaoil code named him “Ivan”. His real name was Oday al-Quraishi. He too was a South Oil Company official. He too was carefully groomed. In 2008, Unaoil even promised him a job – before deciding he was more use to them as a corrupt government insider.

“Please note I held two meetings with Oday today,” Al Jarah wrote to Unaoil colleagues on May 19, 2008.

“He is now appointed by the Ministry as Project Manager to liaise between the Ministry of Oil and US Gulf Development Projects (GDP). In view of the above, I believe Oday will be far more useful to us in SOC [South Oil Company] then joining Unaoil.”

But Unaoil did put him on the payroll. There would be a monthly payment for “Ivan” and a cut of every multi-million dollar contract he funnelled to Unaoil's clients.

“Please note I met with Ivan yesterday and I feel we should instigate a retainer for him as discussed. It is $6000 per month. ($5K for him, and $1k he needs for presents to people within),” Al Jarah wrote.

“I think this will only go on as far as we get commitments firmed up and he knows his portion [of the money paid by foreign companies to Unaoil to win certain oil field projects]”.

Ivan and Lighthouse repeatedly leaked information to Unaoil, and rigged tender committees to favour its clients. The pair worked assiduously to identify projects funded by the Iraq government, or through international aid money, that could be funnelled to a Unaoil client.

An email from August 2009 shows the men working in tandem to maximise their, and Unaoil’s, profits.

“In general discussion with Mr. Lighthouse this evening, it transpired that TPIC [Turkish Petroleum International Company] is close to winning an order of $325m for drilling 45 wells in south of Iraq. He says they applied openly and he is not aware of any special connection to an Iraqi entity pushing their bid forward. I immediately requested Lighthouse to hold processing anything until he hears from me.

“We need to move urgently to reach this company and give them the full works that Unaoil can make their life easier in the Ministry, SOC,” Al Jarah wrote.

“More discussions with Lighthouse tomorrow, he advised me that as DG [Director General] he has hit it off with BP [British Petroleum] very well indeed ... At the appropriate time, he will drop the hint for them to see Unaoil for on-the-ground services…”

Unaoil made Dhia Jaffar and Oday al-Quraishi wealthy men.

Oday “is getting rich,” a 2010 Unaoil email noted. “He wants me to accompany him this morning to see a flat in Chelsea to buy.”


The scale of the graft is revealed in coded emails discussing payments for Dhia Jaffar. A bribe was called a holiday; a one-day holiday was $1 million.

“It's probably true that Lighthouse wants to see a return,” Cyrus Ahsani wrote in one email. “I previously said to Lighthouse half a day holiday, but they [Dhia Jaffar and Quraishi] are looking for a full day off. We may settle for 18 hours.”

In another email, Al Jarah made it clear that several million-dollar payments would be needed to secure Ivan’s support for Saipem, an Italian client.

“It is all an issue of how many days we spend on this job, Bearing in mind the headline figure. The 2.5 days I presented was felt insufficient time allowed, but Ivan will think about it and consult his colleagues. I suspect it will prove enough time.”

In another email, a senior Unaoil executive explicitly suggested that Oday al-Quraishi may need more cash: “The best medicine for a calm life is a dose of George Washington … why not?? We got a little bit more… and we need Ivan,” the executive wrote. He was later counselled by a colleague for his indiscreet language.

As Unaoil's insiders became more powerful, the company had to work harder to keep their activities secret.

“I will appoint Lighthouse's nephew to act as go between and we stay in constant touch. He can be put … on a retainer and Lighthouse is comfortable with him coming and going out of his house... Lighthouse requested only I handle Nephew and he doesn't call at our office … I agreed,” Al Jarah wrote.

In the end, of course, the beneficiaries of these dealings were not just corrupt officials and Unaoil -- they were also the companies which paid Unaoil to win massive contracts.

These were contracts that should have been decided by genuine tender, ensuring the best deal for Iraq and its people. Instead, Unaoil's intervention meant that many contracts were won by the company that paid the biggest bribe.


Along with FMC Technologies, Rolls-Royce, and Weatherford, beneficiaries of Unaoil's network in the Middle East have included a who's who of the oil service industry: Italian firms Saipem, Rosetti Marino and Valvitalia, German company MAN Turbo, Dutch firm SBM Offshore, Swiss company ABB, US companies The Shaw Group, Cameron/Natco and Core Labs, Australian firm Leighton Offshore, UK firms Petrofac, Weir and Clyde Pumps. And so on.

The leaked emails make it clear that senior managers in some of these companies knew, or should have suspected, that Unaoil may be acting corruptly. Some managers appear wilfully blind to this possibility, and a small number were actively corrupt.

Al Jarah identified a Rolls-Royce manager as a valuable insider who could feed Unaoil “useful internal info on how to respond to RR [Rolls-Royce]”.

“The effort and help [the Rolls-Royce manager] is providing is on the understanding” that Unaoil “will retain him as a side consultant/Technical adviser (Very quietly please) to help in handling RR.”

“A figure of Dhs [Dirhams] 5000 per month ($A1840) was agreed. Presently … It is the fastest Basil has seen him work the past two years.”

Unaoil also corrupted senior managers of the companies contracted to run Iraq's biggest oil fields, including the Al Zubair field.

In early 2010, Italian oil giant Eni won the contract to develop Al Zubair. The move was part of an Iraq government push to get multinationals including Eni, BP and Shell to help exploit the nation's wealth. The Unaoil story, however, proves that appointing senior oilmen from private companies to run state assets is no safeguard against corruption.

The emails make clear that by 2010, Unaoil had successfully wooed senior figures inside both Eni and BP's oilfield management teams.

A senior Italian oilman working for Eni, Diego Braghi, was bribed to leak competitors' tender documents and to rig tender committees to favour Unaoil's clients at Zubair. These clients included Core Labs, MAN Turbo and Weatherford. Braghi (who denies any wrongdoing) didn't come cheap.

The leaked files reveal he wanted to split the payments from Unaoil’s clients “60% for us and 40% for you, after expenses.

“Once you have accepted the above conditions, we will release the information you have requested,” Braghi wrote.

Unaoil's Cyrus Ahsani responded by offering a 50/50 split along with a warning that Unaoil's operation in Iraq was “more and more difficult and RISKY.”


But Unaoil's biggest bribes were paid to two men who sat around the Iraq government's cabinet table; men who directed the future of country's oil industry, cut deals with foreign presidents and prime ministers and attended OPEC meetings.

Al Jarah took special care to protect their identities. He codenamed them “M” and the “Teacher”. Contact was through a middle man who operated out of Amman, Jordan, and who was called Ahmed al-Jibouri; he was given the codename the “Doctor.”

Jibouri and his contacts stood to make Unaoil very rich.

In a series of emails, Al Jarah described a $100 million dollar Iraq government contract that had “come from the teacher” and could be funnelled to Unaoil client Hyundai. Al Jarah wrote that Hyundai could be guaranteed the job if it paid between $7 million and $5 million to Unaoil. In return, Unaoil would “influence … the decision making process and can fully swing it in their direction”.

A cut of this $7 to $5 million would then be paid by Unaoil to Jibouri, who fronted for “M” and the “Teacher”.

A leaked transcript of a Skype conversation (Unaoil used Skype because it could not be intercepted by police) provides evidence that al-Jibouri was no mere lobbyist, but rather a bagman extracting kickbacks for others.


“He is a tool,” Al Jarah wrote over Skype. “The people above him are right assholes and greedy.”

In 2010, Al Jarah agreed to pay Jibouri more than $1 million (later revised to $500,000) to get his friends in Baghdad to try to carve up contracts on the Garraf oilfield. This time the beneficiaries would be British firm Petrofac and Dutch firm SBM.

“Your people must … clear the way and support for Petrofac to win this order,” Al Jarah wrote to Jibouri. “We are now agreed the figure 1 [million] for this service. But Petrofac must win so we have to follow it through and you get paid when we get paid.”

SBM confirmed in a statement that it had used Unaoil in Iraq, but that, “a compliance review was completed … and no irregularities were found”.

So who are the “Teacher” and “M”?

Their identities would have likely remained hidden. But then Al Jarah slipped up. Even the most careful men make mistakes.

On Friday June 3, 2011, Al Jarah learned that the prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, had ordered deputy prime minister Dr Hussain al-Shahristani to visit a government-funded oil project that had been won (corruptly) by a Unaoil client, the offshore arm of Australian construction giant Leighton Holdings.

Shahristani is something of a celebrity in the Arab world, having endured years in an Iraqi jail for disobeying Saddam Hussein. After Saddam was toppled, he became oil minister and, in late 2010, deputy prime minister. As a younger man, Shahristani had also worked as a teacher.

When Al Jarah learned that Shahristani was to visit the site, he sent an angry email to Jibouri: “The PM has asked Teacher to go himself on Leighton's Barge in Fao ... don't you think you should have told us visit like this is taking place?”

So that was Teacher. But what about M? Once again Al Jarah got careless. A comprehensive search of his emails has revealed that in 2009 Al Jarah wrote that he had contacted middleman Ahmed al-Jibouri to get “access” to his “best pal Kareem Leaby [Luaibi] at the Ministry”. Kareem Luaibi was the Iraq oil minister who succeeded Shahristani. He was also M.


In 2010 and 2011, Al Jarah agreed to pay more than $20 million in bribes to Jibouri to influence Shahristani and Luaibi. In return, Unaoil wanted their support for Leighton Offshore, which was bidding for a slice of a $2 billion oil pipeline project.

Knowing the code, it’s clear why Jibouri was so valuable to Unaoil. At one point he “called M in front of me and made that request”; at another he made a phone call to “the Teacher's house at midnight”.

Emails suggest Jibouri was no simple lobbyist, and that the politicians themselves were involved in negotiating the size of their bribes. One email describes the promise of a $1.5 million payoff – described in code as “1.5 days holiday” – to deliver a $70 million contract.

“He [al-Jibouri] transferred that info to teacher and on that basis teacher gave it the OK,” Al Jarah wrote.

In 2011, Unaoil agreed to pay one of its biggest ever bribes, $16 million, to win the support of “M” and the “Teacher” for a $600 million pipeline contract. This payment, wrote Al Jarah in 2011, would ensure Leighton Holdings had the backing of al-Jibouri's “team”. Al Jarah also wrote that he wanted to show documents relating to this $16 million payment directly to “Teacher.”

“I'd like to have it in front of the teacher here in Amman tomorrow evening,” he wrote.

“Teacher is confident that he can knock out [Leighton’s rivals].”

And this: “Teacher & M will insist on delivery date to push L [Leighton] through.”

Al Jarah urged his Unaoil bosses to “please make sure our holiday period [bribe amount] is firm” or risk “Peddling like mad to please Teacher”.

A Fairfax Media and Huffington Post investigation has uncovered an extraordinary story of bribery and corruption in the oil industry, centred on Monaco-based company Unaoil.


By May 2011, Al Jarah was boasting that Unaoil was close to fulfilling its ultimate mission in Iraq: complete control of the government’s oil hierarchy.

“The troubles we are facing now is because we don't have the full pyramid covered... He [al-Jibouri] fully appreciates the advantages better than me and sees the grip we will have on the whole Ministry … it is something he is working on very hard with his contacts.”

The trove of leaked Unaoil documents are mostly dated between 1999 and 2012, so it is difficult to get a clear picture of the company’s more recent operations. However, it seems not everything has gone to plan. When Iraq's government changed in late 2014, al-Shahristani was appointed education minister and Luaibi lost his post as oil minister. However, Dhia “Lighthouse” Jaffar was last year appointed as Iraq's Deputy Minister for Oil Refineries.

Iraq remains wracked with instability and violence, including that wreaked by ISIS. Many ordinary Iraqis remain desperately poor. But Unaoil is not. And nor are its multinational clients, who continue to post huge profits and win jobs in Iraq, sometimes still with Unaoil's help.

Al Jarah and Unaoil last week vehemently denied over the phone that they were involved in any bribery or corruption. The now education minister, Shahristani, called to say he had never heard of Jibouri or Al Jarah, and that he had never taken a bribe as oil minister. He urged Fairfax Media and Huffington Post to provide its evidence to the courts and Iraq’s integrity commission.

Unaoil’s fixer, Jibouri, did not respond to questions.

Despite years of corruption not a single person has been held accountable in connection to Unaoil's operations.

Last year, the Ahsani family sent out an internal email to staff to deal with consistent oil industry rumours that they were corrupt.

“As many of you know, we are close to securing some major new awards from IOCs [International Oil Companies],” the email states. “We should see such desperate measures to stain our reputation as a badge of honour as we grow and succeed in winning bigger jobs.”


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