Monaco 'helping Britain investigate oil sector corruption scandal'
Monaco's government says it is helping British authorities investigate a "vast corruption scandal" implicating an unspecified number of international oil companies.
The tiny European principality said several executives of the Monaco-based company UNAOIL had been questioned over the past few days, and that their homes and headquarters had been searched following an urgent request from Britain's Serious Fraud Office.
"These searches and interviews took place in the presence of British officials as part of a vast corruption scandal which implicates several foreign companies active in the oil sector," it said. "Evidence will be used by British officials as part of their investigations."
Few further details were made available and Monaco's government said going into specifics might compromise the investigation.
A UNAOIL spokeswoman said the company "has no comment at this time" and the Serious Fraud Office also declined comment.
UNAOIL was at the centre of an expose published on Wednesday by the Huffington Post and Australia's Fairfax Media, which accuses the business of having "systematically corrupted the global oil industry" by delivering millions in bribes on behalf of well-known multinationals to secure contracts.
The company has denied the allegations. Asked by both publications whether UNAOIL paid bribes, chief executive Ata Ahsani was quoted as saying: "The answer is absolutely no."
The publications said they drew on information gleaned from hundreds of thousands of internal emails between 2002 and 2012 for their six-month investigation.
Fairfax described it as "the biggest leak of confidential files in the history of the oil industry" and said the files held evidence of bribes paid to Middle Eastern oil chiefs and other officials, sometimes with the knowledge - and occasionally with the active participation - of the multinationals involved.
Investigative reporter Nick McKenzie said the initial tip-off about the scandal arrived in the mail, with instructions to place an ad in a French newspaper carrying the code words "Monte Christo" if he wanted to know more.
Fairfax said UNAOIL did not challenge of the authenticity of the documents involved and instead sent a letter through its lawyers demanding that Fairfax wipe the material from its servers.