The Panama Papers show politicians and mining, oil and gas interests benefit from secrecy and dubious multimillion dollar transfers
When he wasn’t aboard his yacht, Farid Bedjaoui held court in the Bulgari Hotel in Milan, a renovated 18th-century palace nestled between the botanical gardens and the La Scala theater. Over five years, Bedjaoui’s hotel tab there exceeded $100,000.
In the plush rooms and the granite-lined lobby, Bedjaoui met with Algerian government officials and executives from Saipem, the Italian energy giant. Their agenda, according to witnesses later interviewed by Italian prosecutors: arranging some $275 million in bribes to help the energy company win more than $10 billion in contracts to build oil and gas pipelines from the North African desert to the shores of the Mediterranean.
To shift the bribe money between countries, Bedjaoui used a cluster of offshore companies that helped him shield the transactions from scrutiny, Italian prosecutors claim. Twelve of the 17 shell companies linked to Bedjaoui were created by Mossack Fonseca, the Panama-based law firm that is at the center of the Panama Papers scandal, a review of the law firm’s internal records by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other media partners has found.
Italian investigators described one of those companies, Minkle Consultants S.A., as a “crossroads of illicit financial flows” that channeled millions of dollars from subcontractors to an array of recipients whose identities are still being untangled. Prosecutors allege Bedjaoui used one company set up through the law firm to funnel as much as $15 million to associates and family members of Algeria’s then-energy minister.
The cross-border bribery scandal is one of dozens of cases in Africa in which companies created or administered by Mossack Fonseca have played a role in oil, gas and mining deals that have spawned public allegations of tax dodging, corruption, environmental destruction or other misconduct. In all, ICIJ’s review identified 37 companies within the Panama Papers that have been named in court actions or government investigations involving natural resources in Africa.
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