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Algerians outraged over latest corruption accusations against state oil and gas behemoth


Fox News

March 3, 2013 / Associated Press

ALGIERS, Algeria –  Corrupt and gorging itself at the trough of Algeria’s vast oil wealth — that’s how most Algerians privately view the elites running the country. Yet few have been willing to say so publicly, until now.

New corruption scandals are shining a new spotlight on state oil company Sonatrach, which jointly with BP and Norway’s Statoil runs the desert gas plant that was the scene of a bloody hostage standoff in January.

A recent anguished public plea by a former Sonatrach official shocked Algerians and raised hopes that the leadership will try to clean up the oil and gas sector in Africa’s largest country.

There’s plenty at stake: Algeria is also one of the continent’s richest countries, as the No. 3 supplier of natural gas to Europe, with $190 billion in reserves, up $8 billion in the last year alone.

The Feb. 18 letter by former Sonatrach vice president Hocine Malti in the French-language Algerian daily El Watan broke the silence around the company. Addressing the shadowy leader of Algeria’s intelligence service, it asks if he is really serious about investigating new bribery scandals involving Sonatrach and Italian and Canadian companies.

When Italian prosecutors in January announced an investigation into oil company ENI and subsidiary SAIPEM for allegedly paying €197 million ($256.1 million) in bribes to secure an €11 billion contract with Sonatrach, it provoked a firestorm in the Algerian media, until the North African country’s justice system finally announced its own inquiry Feb. 10.

Malti, author of the “Secret History of Algerian Oil,” scoffed that Algerian authorities were only following the lead of international investigators and wondered if Mohammed “Tewfik” Mediene, the feared head of the Department of Research and Security, would allow the real sources of corruption to be tried in court.

“Is it too much to dream that some of your fellow generals, certain ministers or corrupt businessmen — members of the pyramid that you are on top of — members of this fraternity, might also end up in front of justice?” he asked in the letter. “Or will it be like always, just the small fry are targeted by this new investigation?”

“Will we have to continue to listen for news from the Milan prosecutor to know the sad reality of our country, to discover how certain people, whom you know quite well, people you have come across in your long professional career, have gorged themselves on millions of dollars and euros of the country’s oil revenues?” he added.

The response to the letter was swift. Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi promised that once an investigation was complete “we will take all necessary measures” against those harming the interests of the nation.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who rarely appears in public, said in a written statement, “these revelations provoke our disgust and condemnation, but I trust the justice system of our country to bring clarity to the web of accusations and discover who is responsible.”

Malti told The Associated Press by telephone from his home in France that he wrote the letter partly out of anger that Algeria had to rely on foreign prosecutors to reveal the extent of its own corruption and addressed it to the head of intelligence to shock people.

“It made a lot of noise because with this letter, I broke a taboo,” he said. “The head of the DRS is an unapproachable figure in Algeria, at times we can’t even pronounce (say) his name.”

It is not the first time the state-owned hydrocarbon company, which provides Algeria with 97 percent of its hard currency earnings, has been enmeshed in scandal.

In 2010, its head, three of its vice presidents and the minister of energy were all fired in a corruption investigation run by Mediene’s intelligence agency.

However, rather than restore faith in the country’s corruption-fighting mechanism, the 2010 purge was widely seen as a chance to settle scores between the DRS and Bouteflika, since most of those fired were his close associates.

Algeria ranks 105 out of 176 in Transparency International‘s 2012 corruption index, and the occasional corruption investigation often just seems to be how the elites settle their scores, such as a string of revelations about prominent politicians in November, which observers said were linked to next year’s presidential elections.

“I realize that people might be shocked by what is happening at Sonatrach — these scandals are terrible and we condemn them as individual acts,” Sonatrach head Abdelhamid Zerguine said on the radio Sunday, the anniversary of Algeria’s 1971 nationalization of its oil industry from the French. He promised to fight further corruption “with utmost vigor,” even while denying it was systemic.

The scale of the scandals is staggering. Nearly €200 million ($260 million) was paid out by the Italians, according to the Milan prosecutor. ENI has pledged full cooperation with prosecutors in their investigations.

Meanwhile, according to a joint investigation by Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper and an Italian business paper published Feb. 22, Canadian company SNC-Lavalin paid a series of bribes of its own to secure a $1 billion engineering contract. Company spokeswoman Lilly Nguyen responded to queries about the case saying “to the best of our knowledge, SNC-Lavalin is not specifically under investigation in the Sonatrach matter.”

With commissions on deals like this going to the highest levels of power, the Algerian press rarely reports about it — until the subject is broached by the foreign media.

Malti, who was there at the founding of Sonatrach in 1963, estimated that the country was losing between $3 and 6 billion annually to corruption in the oil sector alone.

“If a judge says that an inquiry has opened or even a minister promises to take measures against ‘people working against Algeria’s interests,’ I don’t believe them,” Mohammed Saidj, a professor of international relations at Algiers University, told the AP. “It’s just words to appease a public opinion shocked when it hears about the corruption and billions of dollars stolen by high-level political and military officials, including those close to the president.”

The chances of this situation changing are dim, considering how much the country relies on a single company.

In a chapter on Sonatrach in the 2012 book “Oil and Governance,” John Entelis, an Algeria expert at New York’s Fordham University, described the importance of a company established just a year after Algeria won its independence from France, and wrote, “Algeria’s governing elite rely upon Sonatrach for revenue from which they gain power, patronage, and privileges.”

Entelis told AP that the letter in El Watan shows that Algerians are increasingly able to complain about this system, even if that won’t necessarily change things.

“This is the heart of the Algerian political system — Sonatrach, the DRS, civil society in the form of … willingness to make these things public. Some say this is what enables it to maintain itself instead of collapse,” he said.

___

Paul Schemm reported from Rabat, Morocco. Associated Press writer Karim Kebir contributed to this report from Algiers, Algeria.

Cameroon Palm Oil Plantation Withdraws Sustainability Application


Pratap ChatterjeeCorpWatch Blog

September 6th, 2012

A subsidiary of Herakles Capital, a New York based investment firm, has decided to cancel its application to join the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) after environmental groups alleged that its 73,086 hectare project in southwestern Cameroon would threaten the sustainability of the local community.

In 2009, the SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon, Ltd. (SGSOC), which is wholly owned by Herakles Capital, acquired a 99 year lease to land in Ndian and Kupe-Manenguba divisions where it drew up plans for a $350 million palm oil plantation. (Herakles Capital has several other investments in Africa such as the Bujagali dam in Uganda, the Boke Alumina Project in the Republic of Guinea and an East African undersea fiber-optic project.)

“From its very name, American-owned SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon, Ltd. (SGSOC) presents a pro-environment, pro-resources image,” writes Frederic Mousseau, policy director of the Oakland Institute in California in a new report released this week. “(But it) is also part of a strategy to deceive the public into believing that there is logic to cutting down rainforests to make room for palm oil plantations.”

SGSOC has gone to great lengths to convince the public that it is socially responsible. “Our project, should it proceed, will be a big project with big impacts – environmentally and socially,” Herakles CEO Bruce Wrobel wrote to the Oakland Institute in July 2011. “The big question – and the real story – is whether it ends up strongly positive or strongly negative. I couldn’t be more convinced that this will be an amazingly positive story for the people within our impact area.”

In addition to Herakles, Wrobel operates a non-profit dedicated to poverty reduction named “All for Africa” that boasts board members like Nigerian-American actor Gbenga Akinnagbe who shot to fame in The Wire, a U.S. TV series, and the film: The Taking of Pelham 123.

And SGSOC also applied to join the international Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has signed up 779 members and associates including almost every major industry player in the world, in an effort to burnish its social responsibility credentials.

Indeed RSPO was created in 2004 to address the numerous clashes over palm plantations around the world with the help of non-government organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund which helped set up the organization.
But the palm oil industry – which produces 50 million tons of edible oils and biofuels a year – remains deeply controversial.

As CorpWatch writer Melody Kemp noted in her recent article for us “Green Deserts: The Palm Oil Conflict” the plantation companies make money in two ways: First they clear cut and sell the existing high-value trees, burning the residue. The haze from those forest fires has interrupted regional air traffic and caused severe respiratory illnesses in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia as well as Singapore. Then the companies plant the spiky oil palms trees, creating vast, eerily silent monoculture plantations.

Activists have sparked a raging debate over the industry, faulting palm oil for contributing significantly to carbon dioxide and methane emissions, the loss of biodiversity and precious carbon sequestering forests, land subsidence, poverty, and for exacerbating starvation resulting from land appropriation.

The very same problems have been predicted in an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) conducted by SGSOC itself. The company assessment suggested that the negative impact of the plantation on livelihoods will be “major” and “long-term.”

Nor is the Herakles investment the most efficient way to support the local economy, according to a report by on the SGSOC deal by two Cameroonian NGOs, the Centre for Environment and Development (CED) and Réseau de Lutte contre la Faim (RELUFA). The groups calculated that the government of Cameroon could generate 13 times more employment and significantly larger tax revenue if it were to require local bread-makers to use 20 percent locally produced flour (derived from sweet potatoes, corn or cassava), using just 15,000 hectares of land.

Local farmers and politicians are especially skeptical of SGSOC because palm oil plantations are not new to the region. Beginning in 1927, companies like Pamol have operated similar projects for decades. “Plantation jobs have always been modern day slavery,” says Joshua Osih of the Social Democratic Front, Cameroon’s main opposition party, in an interview for the film “The Herakles Debacle” just released by the Oakland Institute. “We’ve seen a lot of industrial plantations develop around this area and nothing, absolutely nothing, has happened positively to the population.”

“Everybody here is self employed,” Okie Bonaventure Ekoko, a cocoa farmer from Mboko village told the film maker Franck Bieleu. “There is no advantages that the people here will have (from Herakles investments). We don’t need them, we are fine.”

“And if they come and say they want to take this land from us, we are not ready for it,” says Esoh Sylvanus Asui, a farmer from Bombe Konye village. “We will fight and we will die for our land.”

In May 2011, some 50 local and international environmental and community groups wrote a letter to Wrobel expressing concern. In March 2012 a number of the same groups lodged a formal complaint against Herakles with the RSPO alleging that Herakles’ project violated Cameroonian laws and noted that it “would disrupt the ecological landscape and migration routes of protected species.” Meanwhile local farmers have begun to organize against the project. On June 6, 2012, villagers from Fabe and Toko held a protest against the plantation during the visit of the local governor.

On August 24 2012, Herakles withdrew its application to the RSPO.

“The RSPO regrets this withdrawal of membership by Herakles Farms,” the organization said in a brief statement posted to its website. “This action pre-empts recommendations from the RSPO Complaints Panel to further verify the allegations made by the complainants.”

The company did not respond to requests for comment from the media.

Jonathan, Etete, Shell in fresh N155billion scandal


Premium Times

By Idris Akinbajo

May 21st, 2012

Four years after he was convicted of money laundering in France, Dan Etete, a former Petroleum Minister, through his company Malabu Oil, has become a billion dollars richer, courtesy of the Nigerian Government and Shell.

According to documents (filed March 22, 2012) before the Supreme Court of the State of New York in the US, President Goodluck Jonathan discreetly approved the transfer of the sum of $1.1bn to Mr. Etete on April 29, 2011, two weeks after he was re-elected.

The money was first paid to the Federal Government by two multinational oil companies: Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited (Agip) and Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited (Shell) in respect of oil block OPL 245.

But shortly after the funds were credited to the Federal Government’s account, Mr. Jonathan ordered that it should be secretly transferred to a London account of Mr. Etete’s company, Malabu Oil.

It is not clear what deal Mr. Jonathan struck with Malabu, and on what basis the payment was made. President Jonathan’s spokesperson, Reuben Abati did not answer or return calls seeking his comment for this story. He also did not respond to a text message sent to him for the same purpose.

The government made the payment to Mr. Etete’s company even when it had repeatedly insisted that the award of the oil block to Malabu was done in violation of laid down procedures.

Shell insisted it had no knowledge that the government passed the funds to Mr. Etete’s company.

OPL 245: History

While serving as Petroleum Minister under late Head of State, Sani Abacha, Mr. Etete awarded his own company, Malabu, an oil block, OPL 245 in 1998.

The allocation was however reversed by the Federal Government under President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2001 when the FG described the allocation process as dubious. The block was allocated to Shell in 2002.

Following the revocation, a prolonged legal battle ensued with Malabu taking the Federal Government to court. In 2006, the Federal Government reversed itself and re-allocated the oil block to Malabu. This angered Shell which then filed arbitration proceedings in Washington.

Following the protracted legal battles, an agreement was reached between all parties.

The agreement

In an agreement titled “Block 245, Malabu resolution agreement” dated April 29, 2011 between Malabu and the Federal Government, the FG agreed to pay Malabu $1,092,040,000 in “full and final settlement of all its claims, interests or rights relating to OPL245.” The agreement also stated that the rights to the oil block would be reallocated to Agip and Shell.

In a separate agreement between Shell and Nigeria, titled “Block 245 resolution agreement,” the two multinationals (Agip and Shell) agreed to Pay the same sum “for the purposes of FGN settling all and any existing claims and/or issues over Block 245…”

In other words, the multinational oil firms agreed to pay $1.1bn to the FGN with the knowledge that the money would be used to settle any existing claims that existed by any other party to the oil block…Read more.

Libya, U.S. Probe Oil-Company Deals


The Wall Street Journal

By Benoit Faucon, Summer Said, and Liam Moloney

April 8, 2012

New Government Aims to Shed Light on Petroleum INdustry‘s Interaction with Gadhafi regime

Authorities in the U.S. and Libya are investigating oil giants such as Italy’s Eni SpA and France’s Total SA over their past relations with the fallen Libyan regime, potentially casting a cloud on the companies’ ambitions to expand their foothold in the country with the largest oil reserves in Africa.

Last year, a civil war that toppled Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi nearly shut down the country’s crude production, stressing global oil markets. But as oil-company operations return to normal, the probes may complicate the oil companies’ business in the country.

The Libyan general prosecutor’s office is investigating “Libyan and foreign operators in Libya” for possible “financial irregularities,” its deputy head, Abdelmajeed Saad, said in an interview.

In a March letter reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the prosecutor’s office formally asked the head of audit at Libya’s National Oil Co. to supply oil-company documents. The letter mentions oil transactions between NOC and international traders Vitol Group and Glencore International PLC as examples of documents it is seeking. Though the Libyan probe focuses mostly on the Gadhafi era, the letter indicates that the request involving the traders includes the period of the country’s civil war through the present.

The companies investigated also include Eni, the biggest foreign oil player in Libya, and Total, Mr. Saad said…Read more.

Wal-Mart scandal intensifies focus on foreign bribery


The Kansas City Star

By Mark Davis

April 24, 2012

U.S. government in recent years has sought to crack down on crooked tactics abroad.

Foreign bribery. Internal investigations. Public scandal. Hefty fines. Prison.

Doing business in a global economy isn’t supposed to be like this.

But recently-published allegations that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. covered up bribes in Mexico add to the considerable evidence that simple corruption is ingrained in the international business world.

Wal-Mart said Tuesday it was taking “a deep look” at its policies and procedures, and would name a global compliance officer to oversee five regional officials charged with meeting the terms of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The Wal-Mart case brings renewed attention to the 1977 law that grew out of a discovery that hundreds of U.S. companies had paid bribes and made questionable payments overseas. The law forbids individuals or companies from winning or keeping business through bribery.

But it clearly happens.

“It’s difficult to do business in many countries,” said Linda Tiller, international business law attorney at Husch Blackwell in Kansas City. “The officials expect to have a perk — cash or trips or other things of value — for access to government contracts or approvals. Frankly, in many countries they simply don’t understand U.S. law.”

Perhaps some distant workers don’t either — but companies are liable just the same.

Locally, Layne Christensen Co., based in Mission Woods, continues to deal with its September 2010 discovery of questionable payments to agents and others interacting with government officials in some countries in Africa. The latest news is that the $3.7 million that Layne Christensen, a mining and drilling services company, set aside to cover its exposure under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act may not be enough.

The weight of the law on any company depends a great deal on how quickly it acts and cooperates with federal officials about what it learns. The Securities and Exchange Commission made that written promise in a 2001 document informally called the Seaboard Report.

Seaboard Corp., the Merriam-based agriculture and shipping conglomerate, avoided SEC sanction under a different law by acting quickly and openly when it learned of problems with its financial reports traced back to an employee. The report outlines 13 factors that could work to a company’s credit in SEC cases.

It matters, for example, whether senior personnel turned “a blind eye toward” obvious signs of a problem, the Seaboard Report said.

Civil cases brought by the SEC under the act have jumped sharply since 2006, as have criminal prosecutions by the U.S. Justice Department.

It’s not that foreign corruption suddenly began five years ago. It’s that it began to get a lot more attention.

Several schemes alleged by the SEC in recent years have targeted corrupt practices that had persisted for a decade — for example, bribing doctors in South America or government officials in Nigeria.

Increased government action seemed to begin with a 2007 case against Baker Hughes Inc., said Russ Berland, a lawyer at Stinson Morrison Hecker in Kansas City who helps companies comply with the act. The fine was the largest at the time, and it was the second time that Houston-based Baker Hughes, an oilfield services business, was sanctioned, he said.

A New York Times article Sunday said Wal-Mart failed to tell law enforcement about its own 2005 discovery of possible bribery in its Mexico business.

The Times said a Wal-Mart investigation found details of $24 million in suspect payments to help expand the retailer’s presence in Mexico. But according to The Times, the inquiry was shut down despite a report from the lead investigator that Mexican and U.S. laws probably were violated.

Wal-Mart, in a statement by spokesman Dave Tovar, has since said that it is “committed to getting to the bottom of this matter.” The statement said the alleged bribery “occurred more than six years ago” and was “not a reflection of who we are or what we stand for.”

Tovar also has said the company’s effort includes “developing and implementing recommendations” for training about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, anti-corruption safeguards and other controls.

The U.S. law grew out of a mid-1970s SEC investigation in which more than 400 U.S. companies told the agency about making more than $300 million in illegal or questionable payments to foreign officials and others. Similar laws spread to 33 other nations in the 1990s.

In 2010, Britain adopted a tougher version than the U.S. law, which allows payments to “facilitate or expedite” a “routine governmental action” such as obtaining a permit, processing government papers, providing police protection and similar actions.

Still, some in the American business community have called for relaxing the U.S. law, saying some provisions make competing for business overseas too difficult. But no proposals have reached Congress.

Attention to corruption also has become a part of business routine. Companies that list their stock for public trading warn investors that their employees or foreign subsidiaries might expose the company to anti-corruption prosecution in the United States and abroad. Others formally vow in the paperwork tied to mergers or bond deals that they, their employees and subsidiaries have not violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Corruption has even become part of not doing business.

“In some countries, there is a culture of having to pay officials to get things done,” said Chip Breitweiser, a vice president in international operations at Lenexa-based CST Industries Inc. “Where that is customary, we choose not to participate in those countries.”

CST Industries, which makes storage tanks, domed covers and related products, has offices in Brazil, Britain, India, Singapore, Vietnam and Dubai, and does business in 125 countries.

Breitweiser said many of the trouble spots are in Africa and former Soviet republics.

Transparency International would second that notion. It surveys businesses and makes other assessments of the perceived corruption among the public sectors of 183 nations. Its worst scores pepper Africa, Asia and South America.

The scores it assigns rely on perceptions about bribery of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, embezzlement of public funds and the like, because this behavior typically remains hidden.

Wal-Mart’s brush with the foreign bribery ban could in the end put it on a long list of companies that have run afoul of the law. Several large and well-known companies have faced federal action in the last three years, including Johnson & Johnson, Siemens, IBM, Tyson Foods, Alcatel-Lucent, GE and DaimlerChrysler.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Source: Transparency International

Fast growth and big impacts – How Emerging Market Multinationals are advancing sustainable development


A new report by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) argues that with their spectacular growth in number, size and influence, emerging market multinationals have become a major driver of economic development in their home and host countries. According to GIZ, these companies have three strategic advantages over their northern competitors when it comes to engaging in development: they are already rooted in emerging economies; they already reach out to low-income populations in many ways; and they are already heavily invested in other emerging and developing countries, including the least developed countries. The report outlines the various options for advancing sustainable human development based on these ‘competitive advantages’ and shows where emerging market multinationals can receive support to realize this potential.

Download the report here.

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