Unaoil Says It Was Victim of Extortion, Denies Multi-Billion Dollar Corruption Allegations

Unaoil, a Monaco-based oil-services company, denied allegations posed by Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post that it was at the center of a multi-billion dollar bribery scheme and claimed it was the victim of extortion.

Earlier this year, Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post published an investigative series based on leaked emails from Unaoil. The series, The Bribe Factory, shed light on how Unaoil allegedly acted as an intermediary for international companies doing business in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia and bribed officials to help clients win government-funded contracts.

Unaoil said in a statement this week that it faced a four-month extortion attempt by unidentified criminals. The company said the alleged extortionists “demanded huge sums of money… in exchange for the stolen emails” and that they threatened to leak the emails to the media if the company didn’t pay them.

Rebekah Giles, the lawyer representing Unaoil's owners, the Ahsani family, published an open letter on The Australian yesterday claiming that her clients were told by one extortionist that unless $US 5 million was paid in bitcoin, a digital currency, damaging data would be released to the media.

In its statement, Unaoil claimed its advisors told the company that they believed the alleged extortionists were “at the very least” involved with the media sources of the stories published by Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post. Giles claimed Fairfax Media was an “instrument in the blackmail.”

However, Giles cited a print-edition of The Weekend Australian magazine noting a Fairfax editor said nobody at Fairfax Media knew about the extortion.

Following publication of the series, authorities in Monaco raided Unaoil's offices and its directors’ homes, The Australian reported.

Unaoil blasted the investigation as “littered with sensationalist distortions and misleading correlations.” The statement admonished Fairfax Media and alleged that the emails the journalists used for the stories were stolen. The company claimed that the stories have had a negative impact on its business and that Unaoil would “vigorously defend itself” and “explore all legal options.”

In April, Fairfax Media and the Huffington Post reported that the US Department of Justice and anti-corruption authorities in Britain and Australia launched a joint investigation into the activities of Unaoil. Unaoil said it was already engaging with authorities in the United Kingdom but could not comment in any detail on the matter, according to its statement.

The Ahsani family lawyer lamented that “there is no fairness when guilty verdicts are delivered in the media before the justice system has begun to even move…  Fairfax took it upon itself to be judge, jury and executioner.”

The Huffington Post responded and said it stands by its reporting. “The investigation uncovered more than 100,000 documents, including emails and business contracts showcasing bribery of foreign officials,” The Huffington Post said on a statement on its website. “Law enforcement agencies in Australia, Iraq, Monaco, the United States, and the United Kingdom are investigating Unaoil and its partners.”

Fairfax Media could not be reached for comment.