PARIS – Monaco’s government says it is helping British authorities investigate a “vast corruption scandal” implicating an unspecified number of international oil companies, the tiny European principality said in a statement released late Thursday.
The statement said several executives of the Monaco-based company UNAOIL had been questioned over the past few days and that their homes and headquarters had been searched following an urgent request from Britain’s Serious Fraud Office.
“These searches and interviews took place in the presence of British officials as part of a vast corruption scandal which implicates several foreign companies active in the oil sector,” the statement said. “Evidence will be used by British officials as part of their investigations.”
Few further details were made available and Monaco’s government said going into specifics might compromise the investigation. A UNAOIL spokeswoman said the company “has no comment at this time.” The Serious Fraud Office also declined comment.
UNAOIL was at the centre of a multi-part expose published Wednesday by the Huffington Post and Australia’s Fairfax Media, which accuses the business of having “systematically corrupted the global oil industry” by delivering millions in bribes on behalf of well-known multinationals to secure contracts.
The company has denied the allegations. Asked by both publications whether UNAOIL paid bribes, the company’s Chief Executive Ata Ahsani was quoted as saying: “The answer is absolutely no.”
The publications alleged that a slew of global companies were linked to the scandal, including the offshore arm of Australian contract miner Leighton Holdings. On Friday, the Australian Federal Police confirmed they were investigating allegations that Leighton employees were involved in the payment of bribes during two oil projects in Iraq in 2010 and 2011. The police agency declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation.
Leighton changed its name to CIMIC last year. Fiona Tyndall, a spokeswoman for CIMIC, said Friday that the company had no comment.
The publications said they drew on information gleaned from hundreds of thousands of internal emails between 2002 and 2012 for their six-month investigation.
Fairfax, which described the trove as “the biggest leak of confidential files in the history of the oil industry,” said the files held evidence of bribes paid to Middle Eastern oil chiefs and other officials, sometimes with the knowledge — and occasionally with the active participation — of the multinationals involved. Investigative reporter Nick McKenzie said that initial tip-off about the scandal arrived in the mail, with instructions to place an ad in a French newspaper carrying the code words “Monte Christo” if he wanted to know more.
Fairfax said UNAOIL did not challenge of the authenticity of the documents involved and instead sent a letter through its lawyers demanding that Farifax wipe the material from its servers.
Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of reporter Nick McKenzie.