Samsung, Hyundai and Rolls-Royce are among the companies that have been implicated in a major global oil industry scandal. The revelation surrounds a mysterious Monaco-based company called Unaoil which is accused of bribing government officials to secure technology business deals in the energy industry for international corporations. An estimated $1tn (£700bn) in bribes was paid out to corrupt officials in total.
According to tens of thousands of internal Unaoil emails and documents seen by the Huffington Post and Fairfax Media, South Korean firms Samsung and Hyundai; British firm Rolls-Royce; US companies Honeywell, Halliburton, KBR and FMC Technologies; Germany-based Man Turbo; and hundreds of other major international brands relied on Unaoil to secure lucrative contracts with a multitude of countries in the Middle East, Africa and the former Soviet Union.
The evidence, dated between 2003 and 2012, shows that large multinational corporations used Unaoil's help to win contracts in multiple countries including Iraq, Kazakhstan, Libya, Syria and Tunisia, and that these companies' involvement probably helped to fuel political instability in the Middle East and some parts of Africa that erupted during the Arab Spring and continues to be exploited by terrorist groups today.
"The sources of this story never asked for money. What they wanted was for some of the wealthiest and most powerful figures in governments and companies across the globe to be exposed for acting corruptly, and with impunity, for years," Fairfax Media's investigative reporter Nick McKenzie writes in The Age.
The investigation began after McKenzie was sent a mysterious letter asking him to place an advertisement in the real estate section of French newspaper Le Figaro in July 2015 featuring the code word "Monte Cristo" if he wanted to help expose big names in the oil business for bribery.
Persistent, continued efforts to corrupt government officials
Interestingly, the Unaoil emails do not show government officials demanding bribes and favours, but more a persistent, continued effort to slowly corrupt foreign officials, starting with small gifts and shopping sprees, before eventually hooking the officials with a major bribe.
Of course, all the companies have denied any involvement with or knowledge of Unaoil's underhand activities - "Samsung has always complied with the laws and regulations when performing business," a spokesperson told Huff Post and Fairfax Media, while Rolls-Royce suspended its relationship with a Unaoil subsidiary in 2013, citing corruption allegations, and says it is "cooperating with the authorities" and that it "will not tolerate business misconduct of any kind".
Although the companies claim they did not know about the bribes, there are huge potential legal consequences for Unaoil and for all the companies it worked with, as many of the companies have close ties to industrialised nations that are all members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
All OECD members have to commit to international standards that bar any form of bribery of public officials in business transactions, and should the governments decide to investigate, they could investigate all the companies in their jurisdiction known to have worked with Unaoil.
Honeywell, Halliburton, KBR and FMC Technologies are all US companies, and under federal law, businesses are prevented from working with companies or individuals that they know, or ought to know, bribe foreign officials. US prosecutors have been known to go after US companies as well as foreign companies that do business with the US, and being "deliberately ignorant" is still considered to be a crime.
In the UK, where it is illegal for businesses to bribe absolutely anyone, not just government officials, the UK Serious Fraud Office is already investigating Rolls-Royce, but no specific details have been released.