Oil Firm Under Investigation for Corruption is Contractor on Cambo North Sea Project

Former UK Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May have both lobbied the Bahraini government on behalf of Petrofac, whose co-founder is a major Conservative donor.
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Petrofac logo. Credit: SOPA Images/Alamy

A firm being investigated on corruption charges and founded by a major Tory donor is a contractor on the proposed Cambo oilfield in the North Sea. 

Petrofac, whose co-founder Ayman Asfari has along with his wife donated almost £900,000 to the Conservative Party, is under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for allegedly paying million-pound bribes to secure contracts in nine different countries.

Climate campaigners said the revelation showed the project was becoming “murkier” all the time and that Boris Johnson should put a stop to the development.

Labour Party Chair Anneliese Dodds said the donations raised “serious questions” and called for assurances that there was no “conflict of interest” at play.

The news comes as Siccar Point Energy said it was delaying work on the Cambo development till next year due to “operational issues” and unfavourable weather.

In February 2019, the oilfield services company secured a three-year £73.5 million deal with Siccar Point to operate its wells and manage the engineering for the oil and gas firm’s assets in the North Sea, almost two years after the SFO’s investigation began. Jersey-registered Petrofac is a major player in the sector, with revenue last year of £2.9 billion

Former Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May both reportedly lobbied the Bahraini government on behalf of Petrofac in 2017, before the SFO investigation was made public later that year. Liam Fox also lobbied Bahrain on behalf of Petrofac while he was International Trade Secretary, after the SFO investigation was announced.

Today, Siccar Point was reported in industry publication Energy Voice as having said “its contractor” Petrofac had applied for consent to begin work on the project, responding to claims by Greenpeace that construction had already begun without approval.

Petrofac has received a £300 million loan from the UK Treasury through its Covid Corporate Finance Facility. At the start of the pandemic, Petrofac cut its staff by 20 percent and cut pay by 10 percent, with workers on its Flotta oil terminal in Orkney also reportedly at risk

Asfari was Petrofac’s Chief Executive until he stepped down last year and is now a non-executive director. The Asfaris have not made any donations to the Conservatives since the 2017 general election, according to Electoral Commission records.

Climate campaigners say the Cambo project, which is being developed by Siccar Point and oil major Shell, is incompatible with the UK’s net zero emissions targets and calls from the UN and International Energy Agency for an end to new fossil fuel developments.

The UK’s Scotland Minister David Duguid was branded “ridiculous” earlier this month for suggesting oil from the field, which contains over 800 million barrels of the fossil fuel, could potentially not be used once extracted.

A recent DeSmog investigation found that North Sea assets are increasingly being bought up by privately-owned companies with poor environmental records.

The SFO is investigating Petrofac for alleged bribes in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia over more than 15 years, according to the Guardian

In January 2021, David Lufkin, a former Petrofac executive, pleaded guilty to 14 counts of bribery between 2012 and 2018. This involved working with Petrofac employees to offer or pay £57 million in bribes to win contracts in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates worth a total of over £5.4 billion.

According to the Guardian, Asfari has been among those arrested and interviewed by the SFO. He was questioned under caution in May 2017 and released without charge. The SFO did not name Asfari in its indictment against Lufkin.

Labour Party Chair Anneliese Dodds MP wrote to the Conservative Party in June about the SFO’s Petrofac investigation and called for the party to return the money it received from Asfari.

‘Not a Good Look’

Labour Party Chair Anneliese Dodds said in a statement:

“The Conservative Party receiving almost £1m from the then CEO of a company that is now under investigation over bribery claims and awaiting Government approval for a North Sea drilling project raises serious questions.

“We need urgent assurances that there is no conflict of interest here. There can’t be one rule for the Conservatives and another for everyone else.”

Tessa Khan, Director of Uplift, one of three environmental groups taking the government to court over its continued expansion of drilling in the North Sea, said: “The more we learn about the Cambo oil field, the murkier it gets.

“Boris Johnson has refused to reject Cambo despite the immense damage it will cause, and now we’re learning that the co-founder of Petrofac, which is set to profit from Cambo going ahead, has given huge amounts of cash to the Conservative Party. 

“This is not a good look given that the company is being investigated for bribery.”

Mel Evans, Head of Oil and Gas Transition at Greenpeace UK, said: “The more we learn about the oil companies behind Cambo, the more it becomes clear that the project must be stopped.

“Petrofac has pleaded guilty to fraud, Siccar Point is a private equity firm registered in an offshore tax haven, and Shell is seeking to develop new oil despite having been handed a court order requiring it to significantly cut its oil and gas production this decade.

She added: “The UK stands to gain very little from dealing with these oil giants, but the risk to our climate and to humanity are clear. Boris Johnson must stop Cambo.”

Shell declined to comment and told DeSmog to contact Siccar Point as the operator of the oilfield.

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) told DeSmog to contact the Oil and Gas Authority.

The Oil and Gas Authority declined to comment.

Siccar Point Energy, Petrofac and the Cabinet Office have also been contacted for comment.

Updated 24/08/2021 to include OGA decision not to comment and announced delay to Cambo project.

Updated 25/08/2021 to include Labour Party statement.

Oil Firm Under Investigation for Corruption is Contractor on Cambo North Sea Project
Adam Barnett is DeSmog's UK News Reporter. He is a former Staff Writer at Left Foot Forward and BBC Local Democracy Reporter.
Oil Firm Under Investigation for Corruption is Contractor on Cambo North Sea Project
Rich Collett-White is Deputy Editor of DeSmog. He joined the organisation in December 2018 as a UK researcher and reporter, having previously worked in communications for the climate charity Operation Noah. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists.

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