United Nations – A UN sanctions committee wants Somalia to open a corruption investigation after uncovering evidence that British oil firm Soma may have paid off several Somali civil servants under a 2013 contract.
The evidence came in a 28-page report by the UN’s Somalia and Eritrea monitoring group and listed 14 employees of Somalia’s petroleum and mineral resources ministry who allegedly received payments ranging from $1,600 to $36,000 from Soma.
It also said six officials on Soma’s payroll drew civil servant salaries and that nearly $500,000 was paid to Canadian lawyer J. Jay Park as an independent legal advisor to the ministry.
A letter drafted on Monday by the chairman of the UN’s Somalia-Eritrea Sanctions Committee, Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN Rafael Ramirez, called on Somalia to investigate.
In 2013, Soma, chaired by former British Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, won a lucrative contract to survey Somalia’s southern and central coast, and it later secured the rights to explore 12 offshore oil and gas blocks.
The deal raised hopes of reviving Somalia’s oil and gas industry, on hold for decades during civil war and years of Islamic insurgency.
But the sanctions committee letter, seen by AFP on Tuesday, requests that Somali authorities “promptly investigate and undertake prosecutions, where appropriate, of individuals and entities found to have been engaged in misappropriation of public resources in violation of the Somalia sanctions regime.”
The report stated that “the (monitoring) group has obtained evidence demonstrating that Soma has been making regular payments since June 2014 to civil servants in the ministry of petroleum and mineral resources, some of whom were instrumental in both securing the company’s initial contract and negotiating subsequent agreements.”
Soma has denied any wrongdoing and said in a statement on Monday that the UN monitors had “fundamentally misunderstood the nature, purpose and destination of the payments made.”
Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) opened a criminal investigation against Soma following the allegations.
Security Council members have until August 10 to raise objections to the draft letter.