Friday, December 10, 2010

Wikileaks spot on?

Ugandan officials were likely bribed to support a bid by the Italian oil major ENI for control of half of the country's crude deposits, according to a diplomatic cable seen Friday.

In a December 2009 cable, released by WikiLeaks, US Ambassador to Uganda Jerry Lanier, said an executive from Anglo-Irish Tullow, who opposed the ENI bid, told him the Italians were trying to pull off a "corrupt back door deal."

The leaked cables state that at the time, Tullow and Canada's Heritage Oil controlled all of the untapped crude oil in Uganda's Lake Albert basin, now estimated at roughly two billion barrels.

Heritage had declared its intention to sell its shares and Tullow, following a previously negotiated pre-emption right, believed it was legally entitled to buy out Heritage. In January, Energy Minister Hilary Onek, announced that Uganda planned to block Tullow's bid, favoring the ENI proposal.

Lanier's cable reads that Tullow Oil claims senior Ugandan government officials were 'compensated' to support the sale of a partner/rival firm’s exploration and production rights to Italian oil company ENI.

According to the cable, Tim O’Hanlon, Tullow Vice President for Africa, told Lanier that two senior Ugandan officials received payments from Heritage and/or ENI in exchange for their support. O'Hanlon implicated security minister and ruling party secretary general Amama Mbabazi and Onek.

According to the cable, O'Hanlon claimed that ENI "created a shell company in London ... to funnel money to Mbabazi.

Lanier wrote that US embassy staff "believed" Tullow's allegations were "true" and raised the prospect of "visa revocations for senior officials like Mbabazi," which is widely considered Uganda's second most powerful politician after President Yoweri Museveni.

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