SFO closes Soma probe

20 December 2016, Week 50, Issue 670

The UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) last week closed its investigation into alleged corruption and bribery at a private British company that provided Somalia with seismic surveys on offshore oil and gas blocks.

The 17-month investigation opened after the United Nations’ Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) said in a 2015 interim report that “capacity building payments” from Soma Oil and Gas to Somali public officials were “a likely part of a quid pro quo arrangement.” Soma did seismic surveys of 12 blocks covering around 60,000 square km in return for the right of first refusal on blocks it wanted to explore.

“Whilst there were reasonable grounds to suspect the commission of offences involving corruption, a detailed review of the available evidence led us to the conclusion that the alleged conduct, even if proven and taken at its highest, would not meet the evidential test required to mount a prosecution for an offence," the SFO said in a December 14 statement.

Soma, which invested more than US$40 million in the seismic evaluation project, failed earlier in 2016 to force SFO prosecutors to end their investigation

“Today’s announcement is a welcome vindication of the company and its directors and validates the ethical and transparent governance of Soma,” the company’s chairman, Lord Howard of Lympne said in a December 14 statement. “We acknowledge that the SFO had no alternative but to investigate the allegations which originated from the SEMG but we are disappointed that the SEMG’s position was so obviously partisan and completely out of alignment with the international community, which has a clear interest and duty in helping Somalia to rebuild its economy in a fair and transparent manner.”

Somalia announced its first oil and gas licensing round in November, which includes blocks surrounding the Galmudug, Hirshabelle and South West State regions.