(Adds comment from Soma Oil & Gas in paragraph 5)
LONDON Dec 14 UK prosecutors have closed a
17-month investigation into alleged bribery and corruption at
Soma Oil & Gas, a private UK exploration company seeking oil in
Somalia, despite finding "reasonable grounds" to suspect
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which opened the inquiry
last July after a tip-off from the United Nations' Somalia and
Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG), said there was not enough
evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.
"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 statement on Wednesday.
Soma, one of the first energy explorers to enter Somalia in
2013 after more than two decades of conflict, has vigorously
denied any wrongdoing.
Soma "looks forward to executing its plan to further explore
what is believed to be very considerable hydrocarbon potential
offshore Somalia in 2017 and beyond," it said in a statement.
Soma, chaired by former British Conservative Party leader
Michael Howard, attempted to bring an ambitious legal challenge
against the SFO earlier this year to force prosecutors to either
end their investigation or indicate informally that they did not
plan to pursue the company. It failed.
According to the High Court judgment on Soma's bid for a
judicial review, the SEMG alleged in a report last year that
"capacity building payments" from Soma to Somali public
officials were "a likely part of a quid pro quo arrangement"
allowing Soma to claim commercial advantages.
The judgment, published on Aug. 17, said the SFO inquiry had
cast a shadow over Soma's business and "gave rise to a risk of
Under its Somali deal, Soma provided the government with
seismic surveys on 12 offshore oil and gas blocks covering
around 60,000 square kilometres in return for getting first
refusal on blocks it wanted to explore.
But the SFO inquiry was compounded by delayed Somali
parliamentary elections and doused Soma's hopes of bringing in a
partner, tapping investors or raising debt or equity to proceed
with plans such as building costly offshore wells.
Soma, which has accused unnamed third parties of making "all
too easy assumptions and allegations" about commercial successes
in difficult environments around the world, invested more than
$40 million in the seismic evaluation project.
(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)