Soma Oil and Gas denies any wrongdoing as the Serious Fraud Office opens a corruption investigation into the firm’s operations in Somalia
Photo: Ian Walton/Getty Images
By Tim Wallace
Former Conservative leader Michael Howard is to be questioned by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) as part of its criminal investigation into Soma Oil and Gas in relation to allegations of corruption in Somalia.
Lord Howard, who led the party for two years until 2005, chairs the resources firm, which denies any wrongdoing.
“The SFO have confirmed that no suspicion whatsoever attaches to Lord Howard arising from the business of SOMA and his role as a non-executive director of the company and he has agreed to speak with the SFO to help resolve their enquiry as quickly as possible,” said Soma.
The natural resources exploration firm, which is registered in the UK, signed a deal with the Somali government in August 2013 to develop the oil and gas industry in the troubled east African nation.
The agreement was designed “to promote the oil and gas sector to attract investment and activity, boosting Somalia’s economy and helping the process of normalisation,” according to Soma, and should “generate significant employment and economic opportunities for Somali nationals.”
Investigators are also calling for whistleblowers to come forward to offer more information on the case, in the latest example of the authorities requesting help as well as relying on their own findings.
“The SFO confirmed today that it has opened a criminal investigation into SOMA Oil & Gas Holdings Ltd, SOMA Oil & Gas Exploration Limited, SOMA Management Limited and others in relation to allegations of corruption in Somalia,” the SFO said.
“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 – we can be contacted through our secure reporting channel, which can be accessed via the SFO website.”
The company said: “Soma Oil & Gas can confirm that it has been informed by the Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) that it is investigating an allegation that has been made against the Company. Soma Oil & Gas is confident that there is no basis to the allegation and it is co-operating fully with the SFO to answer it’s queries.”
“Soma Oil & Gas has always conducted its activities in a completely lawful and ethical manner and expects this matter to be resolved in the near future.”