A former British international trade secretary lobbied the royal family of Bahrain to award a $5 billion contract to a British firm under investigation for bribery whose owner is a key donor to the U.K.’s ruling party, reported The Guardian daily on Monday.
Liam Fox, a Conservative Party MP and former government minister, was lobbying on behalf of Petrofac, an oil and gas infrastructure company.
Petrofac’s co-owner and chief executive Ayman Asfari, and his wife donated £800,000 (over $1.03 million) to the Conservatives in 2009-2017 in their names, and not the company’s.
Fox lobbied Bahrain four months after the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office announced its investigation into the corruption at the firm. Asfari was arrested and interviewed as part of the investigation. Former company executive David Lufkin pled guilty to 11 counts of bribery and is currently awaiting sentencing.
The investigation is still ongoing. Bahrain ultimately awarded the contract to another company.
A spokesperson for the Department for International Trade defended the government’s actions, but side-stepped questions over conflicts of interest: “The government supports British business at home and abroad, including backing companies when they bid for international opportunities. This was the case for Petrofac. The then-trade secretary followed the correct processes, carried out with due propriety throughout.”
A Petrofac spokesperson said: “Petrofac does not make political donations. Any donations by Ayman Asfari and his family are made in a strictly personal capacity. Any suggestion that Mr. Asfari’s donations were the basis for preferential treatment by government for Petrofac are entirely false.”
The Guardian had previously reported that Theresa May and David Cameron, two former Conservative prime ministers, also lobbied Bahrain on behalf of Petrofac.
By Karim El-Bar in London