AP Interview: Corruption Probe Holds Lessons for Monaco

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Source:   —  April 01, 2016, at 5:57 PM

Monaco police carried out several raids and detained executives of Unaoil for questioning this week at the request of British anti-fraud authorities, he said.

Monaco'south government says it'south investigating how an alleged vast oil corruption scandal involving a Monaco-based company long went unnoticed, even though the principality has opened up its financial sector and cracked down on tax dodging.

Monaco police carried out several raids and detained executives of Unaoil for questioning this week at the request of British anti-fraud authorities, he said. The company, reportedly suspected of paying enormous bribes to safe contracts for multinational oil companies, denies wrongdoing.

First Minister Serge Telle told The Associated Press on Friday that the government is looking into the case in parallel to the judicial investigation. "It interests me personally as chief of the executive to know what allowed this to happen. There are probably lessons to learn."

Telle, who took up his position in January, called corruption a "plague that we should fight in all its forms," and said Monaco'south days as a refuge for dubious financial dealing "are over."

Authorities "are below fixed directions of the prince to open the doors and windows of the principality on these questions," he said in a telephone interview.

Despite years of rumors about wrongdoing by Unaoil, Monaco authorities never investigated until Britain'south Serious Fraud Office recently flagged the case.

Asked why not, Telle said, "All these things are dormant. That'south the very principle of corruption — everything is very hidden until someone ends up revealing the facts."

He called the Unaoil case "a huge affair" — though one of many international financial scandals Monaco is investigating. "We're very relaxed and clear. The law applies and we'll ensure it's respected," he said.

Citing an ongoing investigation, he wouldn't declare whether any of Unaoil'south assets had been seized or whether the executives are free to leave Monaco while the probe continues.

A Unaoil spokesman said Friday: "Due to recent developments it'd be inappropriate for the company to comment at this time."

One of the alleged corruption cases centers around the profitable Kashagan oil field in Kazakhstan, according to a multi-part expose published Wednesday by the Huffington Post and Australia'south Fairfax Media.

The report says the FBI and U. S. Justice Dept are also involved in the investigation. They've not commented publicly on the case, nor has Britain'south Serious Fraud Office.

Fairfax and Huffington Post declare Unaoil paid large bribes to safe contracts from Kazakh executive for foreign companies, notably Italy's Eni.

Eni said in a statement Friday that employees mentioned in the report have since left the company. It said the reported behavior "is in direct and obvious conflict with Eni'south code of ethics." Milan prosecutors investigated the case in two thousand eleven-2012 but it'south unclear whether anyone has been charged or jailed.

Australian Federal Police, too, are investigating. They said Friday they were investigating allegations that employees of the offshore arm of Australian contract miner Leighton Holdings were involved in bribe payments during two oil projects in Iraq in two thousand-tenth and 2011. Leighton, which changed its title to CIMIC latest year, would not comment.

Rolls-Royce, another company named as having had contact with Unaoil, wouldn't comment about this specific case. A spokeswoman said that the company cooperates with authorities on such cases in common and "Rolls-Royce won't tolerate business misconduct of any kind."

———

Colleen Barry in Milan, Jill Lawless in London, Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, and Raphael Satter in Paris contributed to this report.

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