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SFO launches probe of Soma Oil and Gas

Somali Minister of National Resources Abdirizak Omar Mohamed and Lord Howard of Lympne, chairman of SOMA, on August 6, 2013 (Image courtesy of Soma)The UK Serious Fraud Office confirmed Friday that it has opened a criminal investigation into Soma Oil and Gas Holdings Ltd and allegations of corruption in Somalia.

London-based Soma was founded in early 2013 to explore for oil in Somalia.

The SFO investigation also involves Soma Oil & Gas Exploration Limited, Soma Management Limited, and others.

The agency hasn’t released other details about its investigation.

Soma said in a statement Saturday the SFO is investigating “an allegation that has been made against the company.” 

Reuters cited a diplomatic source in Nairobi as saying the United Nations Monitoring Group for Somalia has been investigating Soma, focussing on its “Capacity Building Agreement” with the oil ministry.

“In a presentation to oil investors in April,” Reuters said, “Soma said that agreement would see the British company ‘support salaries for ministry staff and experts, and (… provide a) contribution towards office equipment and outfitting.'”

Lord Howard of Lympne has been Soma’s chairman since May 2013. He’s the former leader of the Conservative Party in Britain and served as a member of the UK parliament for 27 years.

Soma said Saturday it “is confident that there is no basis to the allegation and it is co-operating fully with the SFO to answer it’s queries.”

In 2013, Soma was awarded the exclusive right to conduct seismic surveys of offshore Somalia oil and gas blocks covering about 114,000 square miles. In return, the company can apply for development rights for about 37,000 square miles.

Soma said it has “always conducted its activities in a completely lawful and ethical manner and expects this matter to be resolved in the near future.”

The SFO said in Friday’s announcement that “whistleblowers are valuable sources of information to the SFO in its cases. We welcome approaches from anyone with inside information on all our cases including this one.”

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

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