x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UAE businessman pleads not guilty of bribery in US courts

An Abu Dhabi businessman pleaded not guilty yesterday in a US court to charges he bribed Iraqi officials under the Oil for Food Program to win contracts.

Abu Dhabi // An Abu Dhabi businessman pleaded not guilty yesterday in a US court to charges he bribed Iraqi officials under the Oil for Food Program to win contracts worth more than US$10 million (Dh37m). Ousama Naaman, a Lebanese-Canadian, was living in Abu Dhabi and since at least 1995 operated several businesses in the UAE. He also acted as the agent of an American chemical company, Inospec Inc. According to the indictment, he offered Iraqi officials kickbacks in exchange for contracts. He is accused of keeping two per cent of the proceeds for himself. Although Mr Naaman is not a US citizen, he "acted as the agent for Parent and subsidiary [Inospec and Swiss-owned Alcor] in Iraq and elsewhere beginning in at least 1995, and maintained his principal offices in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates," according to the indictment. Mr Naaman has been sought by US authorities under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act since August 2008, but the indictment against him was sealed because he was living in the UAE, which has no extradition treaty with the US. Mr Naaman, according to several of his employees here, travelled to Frankfurt, Germany, on July 28. It is believed that he was lured to Germany, where he was arrested at the airport; the indictment against him was unsealed the following day. In March, a German court ruled that he would be extradited to Washington, DC, to stand trial. Mr Naaman pleaded not guilty yesterday, but according to court documents his legal team is working on a plea bargain. It is believed that Mr Naaman's plea will be revisited because Inospec pleaded guilty in March for using him to win contracts with the Iraqi Ministry of Oil. According to United Nations reports on the programme, Iraqi officials and the Iraq Ministry of Oil operated several front companies here and used bank accounts here to receive these kickbacks. After Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the UN Security Council imposed strict sanctions on Iraq. In 1996, the sanctions eased for humanitarian reasons. The Oil for Food Program was created to allow Iraq to export US$2bn barrels of its oil quarterly for buying humanitarian goods. The proceeds were to be transferred to a UN-controlled bank account. But many illicit deals, kickback schemes and inflated prices resulted, according to investigations. In this case, Iraq gave contracts to Inospec and Alcor to provide tetraethyl lead for its oil refineries. Mr Naaman was allegedly used to win three major contracts. myoussef@thenational.ae