(Bloomberg) — Searching for oil off the coast of one of the world’s most dangerous and corrupt countries was always going to be difficult for Soma Oil and Gas Ltd. Now its work in Somalia is being scrutinized by the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office.
On July 31, the SFO raided Soma’s London office as part of its investigation into almost $500,000 worth of payments to Somali officials. Soma, funded by Russian billionaire Alexander Djaparidze and headed by former U.K. Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, says it’s done nothing wrong and is cooperating with the inquiry.
Soma has “always conducted its business in a completely lawful and ethical manner” in trying to develop the country’s first oil reserves, it said in a statement Aug. 3. The SFO has confirmed “no suspicion whatsoever attaches to Lord Howard,” Soma said Aug. 1. Djaparidze didn’t respond to Bloomberg requests seeking comment.
Soma began working more than two years ago in Somalia, where al-Qaeda-linked militants have waged an insurgency since 2006. The country hasn’t had a functioning central administration since civil war erupted almost a quarter of a century ago. It also ranks alongside North Korea as the world’s most graft-ridden nation, according to Transparency International, the Berlin-based watchdog.
The company’s involvement in Somalia has dovetailed with the British government’s increased focus on the country. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told a Somalia conference in London in May 2013 the nation was a foreign policy priority, a month after the company was incorporated and the U.K. reopened its embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital.