Monday, December 13, 2010

Uganda: Oil Firm Denies Bribing Ministers






 Cyprian Musoke and Ibrahim Kasiita
11 December 2010

TULLOW Oil vice-president for Africa has refuted allegations in one of the Wikileaks stories in which he is quoted accusing security minister Amama Mbabazi and energy minister Hillary Onek of graft.
In a letter to President Yoweri Museveni on Friday, Tim O'Hanlon described the allegations as "doctored and absolutely false".

"I have never made such a claim to the US ambassador but merely discussed with him at our meeting in December 2009 the stories published in the local press and the associated rumours circulating in Kampala at the time. I have no evidence implicating the honourable ministers in corruption and have no reason to believe that the rumours sweeping Kampala at the time were actually true," O'Hanlon says in the Friday letter.
He said that as part of a general discussion about doing business in Africa with the US Ambassador to Uganda Lanier said he made reference to the rumours but did not give them credence as true.


In fact, he added, President Museveni insisted on a transparent process which led directly to the joint venture agreement between the Chinese Oil company CNOOC, Total and Tullow.

In the leaked cable titled "Tullow sees corruption in oil sale" sent December 2009 by Donald Cordell, the Economic Officer at the US embassy, Hanlon is alleged to have said that senior government officials were "compensated" to support the sale of a partner firm's exploration and production rights to Italian oil company ENI.

Tullow was prospecting for oil on Lake Albert together with Heritage, but the latter decided to sell off its stake to ENI, sparking a bitter row with Tullow who argued that as a partner, they were entitled to the buy-out before a third party is brought on board.

"Tullow vice-president Tim O'Hanlon identified Mbabzi and Onek as the Ugandan officials who benefited from the sale of production rights by Heritage to ENI," the cable said.
In response, Mbabazi said: "These allegations are absolutely untrue. I have never received even an offer let alone payment from Hetritage or ENI of that kind or for anything. However at that time there was report in The Times of London which did not name anyone but talked about corruption over the deal.

"What surprised me is that the embassy believes that the allegations are true and concluded that the deal showed signs of high level corruption in Uganda's oil sector. This is incredible. I am surprised they would make a statement like that without cross checking with me about my alleged involvement," Mbabazi said.
He said he only attended a meeting when ENI's leadership presented to the President their investment plan.
ENI Spokesman yesterday also denied the Wikileaks story calling it a ploy to destroy its credibility.

"This information is unfounded and defamatory we intend to sue them for this, adding that they will come out with concrete information. I am troubled by that (not being contacted). I have a good relationship with the embassy staff It is difficult for me to imagine that an ambassador could say they believe it was true, that I received payments.

"That could only happen if they have evidence. It is different from saying that there are rumours. It is absolute rubbish," he said.
At the time Heritage entered the deal to sell its share to Eni, he added, it was in partnership with Tullow who decided to exercise its right of first refusal as a partner.

"There were many words exchanged by the two companies in the media about this transaction. I think the speculation in the media about my role in all this was based on the fact that when Eni's leadership came to Uganda and made a presentation to the President about their investment plan for Uganda, I did attend that meeting," he said.

One of the local media houses, he added, raised speculative questions as to his attendance, but there was never anything more to it than that.
"I am also aware of a whispering campaign by one of the parties then, as I do now, with absolute contempt and I hold those who peddle these lies with contempt and I find them disgusting a lot," he said.


O'Hanlon's letter
His Excellency,
Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
President of the Republic of Uganda
State House
Entebbe
Uganda
10th December 2010

No doubt you have been made aware of the illegal theft of confidential communications from various US Embassies around the world including that in Kampala and the publication of selected and often doctored elements of these on the internet.
In one such release, I have been mentioned as accusing your Honourable Ministers ONEK and MBABAZI of involvement in corruption during a meeting I had with the US ambassador last year. This is absolutely false.
Of course, I never made such a claim to the US ambassador but merely discussed with him at our meeting in December 2009 the detailed stories published in the previous week's local press and the associated rumors circulating in Kampala at that time. I have no evidence to present implicating the Honourable Ministers in corruption and have no reason to believe that the rumors sweeping Kampala at the time were actually true.
In answer to the many media enquiries which have flooded Tullow since the Wikileaks publication, we have released the following statement to the Press :-
"As part of a general discussion about doing business in Africa with the US ambassador to Uganda, I made reference to a number of rumours then in circulation in the local media in Kampala to illustrate the issues the oil and gas industry faced. At no time did I give any credence to these rumours and would therefore dispute the record of our conversation as detailed by Wikileaks. In fact, President Museveni's government rightly insisted on a transparent process - which led directly to the joint venture agreement between CNOOC, Total and Tullow."
I can assure Your Excellency that we will continue to monitor these matters closely and will work in any way we can with the two Ministers involved to help clear their names. I remain available in Kampala and welcome any advice you may have to offer in this regard and sincerely regret this entire unhappy episode.
Respectfully Yours
Tim O'HANLON
Vice-President, African Business

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