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Soma Oil sought government help for Somalia despite fraud probe

Storyline:National News, World

Soma Oil and Gas, the explorer chaired by former Conservative party leader Michael Howard, has been lobbying the Government to take actions that would help its operations in Somalia, even while the Serious Fraud Office is investigating the company for alleged corruption there.

The company was set up with finance from a Russian billionaire in 2013 to be a first mover into Somalia’s oil wealth after the tentative peace in the war-torn country.

However, earlier this year the SFO launched an investigation into claims it had been making improper payments to Somali officials — allegations Soma vigorously denies.

Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request show Soma non-executive director the Earl of Clanwilliam — a Conservative peer and donor — continued lobbying the Government despite the probe.

In a letter to Department for International Development minister Grant Shapps, the Earl requested help fighting a potential UN-enforced moratorium on Somalia striking oil deals.

Fearing renewed bloodshed, UN monitors say such a ban on deals with the likes of Soma is needed until the nascent government has proper agreements set up to share oil income fairly around the country.

But the Earl wrote to Shapps: “We hope that Her Majesty’s Government will oppose any such idea and urge other governments to do the same.” He requests a meeting to “explain” the situation.

But Shapps apparently rebuffed the request, saying a DFID-funded report last year identified the Somalian oil industry’s “high risk as a potential driver of conflict in the absence of a revenue-sharing agreement between the Federal Government of Somalia and Somalia’s regions”.

Shapps adds: “While we continue to offer security briefings and political updates… we do not — and have not — lobbied on behalf of oil companies for contracts in the sector.”

Global Witness’s Barnaby Pace said: “The UK Government has taken the right decision not to back Soma Oil and Gas’s deal to immediately exploit Somalia’s oil, especially while the company is being investigated.”

Soma said it is “entitled to advise the FCO on its business activity in Somalia, especially when the FCO has encouraged British companies to invest there”.

Evening Standard