By Dylan Tokar
Former top executives of the Monaco-based Unaoil Group pleaded guilty to foreign bribery charges, three years after a series of articles by an Australian media company implicated the oil-services firm in a world-wide corruption scheme.
Unaoil's former chief executive, Cyrus Ahsani, and its former chief operations officer, Saman Ahsani, reached plea agreements with U.S. prosecutors in March charging them with conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
The brothers helped pay millions of dollars in bribes to officials across Africa and the Middle East, according to court documents filed in a federal court in Houston, which were unsealed Wednesday.
The company's former business development director, Steven Hunter, also pleaded guilty to an FCPA conspiracy charge in a separate agreement in August, the Justice Department said.
The Ahsani brothers are set to be sentenced in April in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, the department said. Mr. Hunter's sentencing is scheduled for March.
A lawyer for the Ahsanis and a lawyer for Mr. Hunter declined to comment on the announcement. All three are U.K. nationals, according to the Justice Department.
Unaoil was the subject of articles in 2016 by Australia's Fairfax Media, which alleged that the group had paid bribes on behalf of a number of prominent companies in the oil-and-gas sector.
The reports prompted investigations by the U.S. and U.K. governments. The Serious Fraud Office, the U.K.'s major economic crimes prosecutor, in 2018 launched criminal proceedings against two Unaoil units.
U.K prosecutors have also brought charges against four individuals in connection with the Unaoil probe. A former Unaoil partner pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy charges in July. Three others are scheduled to begin trial in January.
The Ahsani brothers, who are also nationals of Iran, hail from a wealthy Monacan family. Until 2011, Cyrus Ahsani was also a U.S. citizen, according to the Justice Department.
A number of oil-and-gas companies have disclosed government investigations related to the Unaoil matter.
Documents unsealed in the Texas court on Wednesday named Dutch oil-services firm SBM Offshore NV and a former Ohio-based subsidiary of British engineering company Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC as clients of Unaoil.
Rolls-Royce in 2017 reached settlements totaling more than $800 million with U.S., U.K. and Brazilian prosecutors. The U.K. agreement covered conduct by Rolls-Royce and the Ohio-based subsidiary that was uncovered by the SFO's investigation into the company's use of Unaoil, according to the judge who approved the settlement.
Later that year, SBM Offshore agreed to pay $238 million in a settlement with the Justice Department over bribery allegations spanning three continents. A representative of SBM Offshore didn't immediately reply to a request for comment. The company had previously reached a separate settlement with Dutch prosecutors.
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