Somalia's Government Investigating Soma Oil Charges
NAIROBI, Sept 8 (Reuters) - The Somali government is investigating allegations related to British exploration firm Soma Oil and Gas, which has been searching for oil in Somalia, the foreign minister said on Tuesday.
Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said on July 31 it had launched a criminal investigation into Soma Oil, although it did not outline the corruption allegations against the company, whose London headquarters were also searched.
Soma said at the time it was "confident that there is no basis to the allegation" and it was co-operating with the SFO. It said it had always conducted its activities in a lawful and ethical matter.
"The Somali government is investigating if there is any truth or reality to what Soma Oil has been accused of," Foreign Minister Abdusalam Omer told Reuters in a phone interview from London. "An investigation will be concluded in a timely manner."
He did not give details about the charges.
Sources familiar with the investigation told Reuters in August the SFO probe was triggered by allegations outlined in a confidential U.N. report which accused the British firm of "systematic payoffs" to Somali officials.
A Somali energy ministry spokesman said in August the government would cooperate with Soma Oil until the SFO investigation was concluded.
"You have to understand that Soma Oil came to Somalia when nobody else was coming in. We are grateful for the investments they have made," Omer said.
"If there are issues that need to be addressed, they need to be addressed in a fair, equitable manner," he added.
The United Nations last year called for a moratorium on any new exploration deals in Somalia, warning such agreements could fuel tensions and potentially spark new conflicts as rivals fight for resources in the fragile Horn of Africa nation.
Soma Oil is chaired by Lord Michael Howard, who led the British Conservative Party when it was in opposition. The company said the SFO had told it that "no suspicion whatsoever attaches to Lord Howard".
(Additional reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Giles Elgood)
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