It was only a matter of time before the Panama Papers controversy and the Unaoil bribery scandal overlapped.
Leaked emails obtained by Fairfax Media show the owners of oil industry bribe master Unaoil, the Ahsani family, used the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca – just like thousands of other super-rich around the world – to establish companies in tax haven locations.
As the fallout from 2016’s two biggest international finance stories continues to reverberate, Fairfax Media can also reveal that one of the biggest donors of Britain’s ruling Tory party, property tycoon Javad Marandi, was involved in Unaoil’s Azerbaijan affairs and also a Mossack Fonseca client.
In 2008 and 2009, Unaoil’s finance unit exchanged a series of emails with Mossack Fonseca’s Panama office regarding the power of attorney arrangements between Unaoil founder Ata Ahsani and the company’s two top executives, his sons Cyrus and Saman Ahsani.
The emails related to Unaoil companies established in the Caribbean tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. It is not illegal to use tax havens to create companies or hold accounts.
But in the case of Unaoil, Fairfax Media earlier this month revealed how its British Virgin Islands and Marshall Islands tax haven companies were used to channel corrupt payments to politicians, officials and oil industry executives in several countries.
The revelation of Mr Marandi’s link to the Unaoil affair is likely to create headlines in the UK, where he is well known as a major Tory party supporter – he and his wife, Narmina, have donated Pound 150,000 ($280,000) since 2014 – as well as being the owner of exclusive London properties who flies between London and Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, in private jets.
Mr Marandi, Azerbaijan-born but London-based, is connected to Unaoil through his friendship with Unaoil’s Azerbaijan super-agent, Mohammad Reza Raein.
As well as heading Unaoil’s American operation for years, Mr Raein has led the company’s Azerbaijan interests since the late 1990s, clinching huge contracts for Unaoil’s clients such as Halliburton and Kellogg Brown Root.
Mr Raein, according to a KBR file from 1999, was extremely close to Azerbaijan’s ruling Alieyev family.
Fairfax Media earlier this month revealed how Azerbaijain deputy speaker and senior oil official Valeh Aleskerov was a secret source of Mr Raein’s, who Unaoil code-named V1. Mr Marandi is also close to Azerbaijan’s most powerful people.
As chief executive of the country’s Pasha Constructions, Mr Marandi deals directly with its owners, the powerful Pashayev family. Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev’s wife, Mehriban, is the daughter of Pasha Group’s owner Arif Pashayev.
Mr Marandi’s wife also comes one of Azerbaijan’s most influential families, the Alizadehs. Her father, Mammad Alizadeh, was the long-standing chief of one of Azerbaijan’s major political parties which supported President Aliyev.
Leaked emails show Mr Raein in 2005 and 2006 asking the Ahsanis to pay tens of thousands of dollars into the bank accounts of a man named “Javad”.
When Unaoil’s finance team and chief operations officer Saman Ahsani were hesitant to comply, Mr Raein complained in February 2006 to Unaoil chief Cyrus Ahsani to remind him that “we have regularly sent transfers to the same account”.
“As you may recall, in November we initially needed to sent [sic] the transfer to Mr Marwan Samman, but decided to have Javad send it to him as it would be easier for us.”
Mr Raein provides a crucial clue that shows the Javad he was seeking payment to was none other than Mr Marandi.
He did this by telling Unaoil executive Peter Willimont in early 2006 that a senior executive of Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company, SOCAR, was “Javad’s wife’s uncle Ilyas” and that “we can see him any time we want”.
Ilyas Alizadeh, uncle of Mr Marandi’s wife Narmina, was at the time the head of SOCAR’s technical division. He also served as its foreign relations chief.
There is no evidence to suggest Mr Raein’s repeated requests for Unaoil to pay Mr Marandi was linked to any improper or illegal activity. But the reasons for the requests for Unaoil to make payment to Mr Marandi remain unclear.
Mr Raein has declined to respond to repeated requests from Fairfax Media for comment.
Mr Marandi’s spokesman said he had never worked or acted for Unaoil in Azerbaijan or elsewhere. He did on one occasion arrange for one $50,000 payment to be passed on to a Unaoil person in Azerbaijan to help with “operating expenses”, the spokesman said.
This request was made through Mr Marandi’s “longstanding” friend, Mr Raein, he said. “Other than this extension he has not had any dealings with or for Unaoil,” his spokesman said.
The Guardian newspaper this week revealed that an offshore company belonging to Mr Marandi owned an exclusive Knightsbridge property in London.
That information was found in the more than 11 million leaked files from inside Mossak Fonseca which have exposed the money secrets of politicians, dictators, drug dealers and tycoons.
Source: The Herald