13:46, November 29 97 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-29 13:46:04
Son of oil magnate held by SFO during inquiry into alleged bribery

A property businessman was arrested during a criminal investigation into alleged bribery in the energy industry, the Guardian understands.

Sassan Ahsani was held in May on suspicion of money-laundering offences by the Serious Fraud Office.

The SFO is investigating allegations that Unaoil, a Monaco-based oil and gas consultancy, corruptly secured contracts for dozens of multinationals.

Ahsani, 39, is the youngest son of Ata Ahsani, family patriarch and head of Unaoil.

The SFO started its investigation in March 2016 after thousands of Unaoil emails were leaked to journalists at Fairfax Media in Australia. Police in Monaco raided Unaoil’s offices at the request of the SFO.

Ahsani is the managing director of LRE Capital, a real estate investment and advisory company that has developed and assisted on a number of commercial properties in the UK. These include a site in Brough, east Yorkshire, formerly owned by the arms maker BAE Systems that was visited by Prince Andrew earlier this year.

In a statement issued through his lawyers, Ahsani said: “The investigation into Unaoil is wide ranging and covers all parties perceived to have a connection to the company. It is unfortunate that I have been dragged into this matter and, by association, LRE Capital.

“I understand the investigation must take its natural course and I am confident I will be cleared of any wrongdoing.” The statement added that he had not been charged.

A statement issued in the name of LRE Capital said: “LRE Capital has no connection whatsoever to Unaoil and the board of directors has full confidence in Sassan Ahsani.”

The SFO said: “We can confirm one arrest took place in May this year in connection with an ongoing investigation. We can provide no further comment at this time.”

Unaoil has consistently denied involvement in bribery, calling the allegations “malicious and damaging”. According to Unaoil, some of the information that formed the basis of the accusations “has been gathered as a result of criminal activity including extortion”.

The SFO is also seeking the extradition of Saman Ahsani, Ahsani’s older brother, from Monaco. According to the SFO, the request relates to alleged corruption. Saman Ahsani, 43, who was Unaoil’s commercial director, has not been charged with any offence. A hearing in Monaco is not expected until the new year.

In November, the SFO charged two businessmen with corruption, the first charges to result from its investigation into Unaoil.

Ziad Akle, who lives in London, and Basil Al Jarah from Hull were charged with conspiracy to make corrupt payments to secure contracts in Iraq between June 2005 and August 2011.

Akle, 42, was Unaoil’s territory manager for Iraq, and Al Jarah, 68, was Unaoil’s Iraq partner, according to the SFO. They are due to appear at Westminster magistrates court in London on 7 December.

The SFO investigation into Unaoil has been funded through a special grant from the Treasury, indicating that it is one of its largest inquiries.