BAGHDAD — Iraq’s prime minister on Saturday ordered an investigation into corruption allegations against senior oil officials following an expose into bribe-taking published in international media outlets.
In a statement, Haider al-Abadi ordered “immediate” action by both the anti-corruption commission and the judiciary following reports published by the Huffington Post and Australia’s Fairfax media into large-scale bribe taking by Monaco-based Unaoil company.
The report names four senior Iraqi officials as having received bribes from Unaoil between 2004 and 2012. They include former oil minister Abdul-Karim Elaibi and the outgoing higher education minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, who previously served as oil minister and deputy prime minister in charge of energy.
The publications said they drew on information gleaned from hundreds of thousands of internal emails dated between 2002 and 2012 for their six-month investigation.
The report said that Unaoil paid at least $25 million in bribes via middlemen to secure the support of powerful Iraqi officials, while complaining internally that they were “greedy.” The report also accused the company of bribing senior employees working for international oil companies in Iraq.
Earlier Saturday, Hussain al-Shahristani denied he had been involved in any wrongdoing, calling on the two publications to hand over all the documents in their possession to the Iraqi government for the investigation.
“I have not met nor communicated either directly or through an intermediary or in any other way with any of the people mentioned in the period between 2010 and 2012 or before or after it,” al-Shahristani told reporters in Baghdad.
The revelations come as al-Abadi faces mounting criticism over government corruption and long overdue political reform. The government is highly dependent on the oil sector, which makes up 95 per cent of its budget.
In March, Iraq’s monthly oil revenues rose more than 30 per cent to $2.9 billion, despite low global oil prices which have placed a heavy strain on the country’s economy.
In recent days, executives at Unaoil have been questioned by Monaco authorities and their homes and the company headquarters were searched following a request by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office.