Australian company cited in US indictment for million-dollar bribes to Iraqi officials

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has alleged that senior executives of Australian company Leighton Holdings (now known as CIMIC) were involved in offering bribes amounting to AU$8.25 million as part of an effort to win a billion-dollar construction project in Iraq.

The allegations were made in the context of the DoJ’s wide-ranging inquiry into Unaoil, the Monaco energy industry consultancy said to have helped global companies such as Leighton and Rolls Royce to bribe officials.

According to the DoJ, back in 2010, senior executives at Leighton Offshore had targeted construction jobs in Iraq that were worth up to $2 billion. The executives sought to bribe corrupt officials in the Iraqi government that had been identified to them by Cyrus and Saman Asahni, the brothers who ran Unaoil with their father, Ata. If Leighton’s bid to win the work were successful, it was envisaged that the brothers would win millions of dollars in commissions – enough for Unaoil to pay off corrupt officials within the oil ministry of Baghdad and the government’s South Oil Company.

The DoJ’s 2019 indictment alleges that “certain executives at [a business referred to as ‘Company 8’] ensured” there were “sufficient funds to make bribe payments to Iraqi government officials”. A Fairfax report identifies former Leighton executive, Russell Waugh, as a key figure, and while the indictment only refers to ‘Company 8’ as a “listed Australian company”, Fairfax further alleges that “it is clear it is Leighton”.

Unaoil executive Peter Willimont is alleged to have met with Waugh in May 2010 in a Perth hotel, where the pair, along with others, “agreed to rig the bidding process for projects in Iraq”.

The Ahsani brothers have already pleaded guilty to charges of bribery and money laundering as well as to having “destroyed incriminating documents with the intent to prevent their discovery by law enforcement”. They have since become FBI informants.

This is the longest running bribery case in Australian history. If found guilty, CIMIC could face penalties running into hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sources: 2019 indictmentLeighton Holdings 2016

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