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 Kurdistan minister’s secret £13m oil profit  

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Kurdistan minister’s secret £13m oil profit  21.2.2010   
By Jon Ungoed-Thomas 

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February 21, 2010

LONDON, —  A British businessman who oversees oil contracts in Iraq has made more than £13m by secretly trading shares in a UK company that had struck oil in the country.

Ashti Hawrami, 61, invested in Heritage Oil after he gave it a contract to look for oil in northern Iraq. He sold the shares after it struck oil in March last year.

The Financial Services Authority (FSA), the City regulator, is believed to be investigating Hawrami’s deals and whether he exploited his privileged position.

Hawrami, a minister for the Kurdistan regional government (KRG), says the transactions were authorised and profits were correctly transferred to the government.                          
He acknowledges his superior knowledge of the “oil prospects” of the region, but says he did not breach insider trading laws.

The disclosures will prompt scrutiny over share dealings in oil companies in Iraq. Last week Mehmet Sepil, a Turkish oil executive, was fined nearly £1m by the FSA for insider trading in Heritage Oil.

“An oil minister in Iraq quite clearly shouldn’t be making millions of pounds of profits secretly buying and selling shares on the London Stock Exchange in one of the oil companies he oversees,” said one industry source. “He should disclose what he knew about the chances of this firm striking oil and when.”

Hawrami built up his fortune as an oil consultant and owns a mansion near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. He returns to England about once a month.

The businessman joined the KRG in 2006. He is credited with making a series of deals with foreign oil companies, including Heritage Oil, that have put Kurdistan on the world energy map.

Hawrami bought the shares in Heritage in autumn 2008 for £12,095,850 as it looked for oil in Kurdistan. He started selling them five days after the company announced that it had struck oil,
www.ekurd.netthe shares were sold for £25,070,709. The oil minister says the deals were authorised by his government but he used nominee accounts at HSBC in London because he considered public disclosure might be embarrassing.

In a separate deal Hawrami bought shares in the oil group DNO, listed on the Oslo stock exchange. It had also been awarded a contract in Kurdistan. He made a profit of more than £10m on the shares.

Hawrami said he originally bought shares in DNO to provide the company with financial support. He claims he bought the shares in Heritage to hedge his bets if the value of DNO stock fell. He says he made no personal gain from the profits.

Last week the KRG said it had authorised all of Hawrami’s transactions and was satisfied that he had not acted on any market-sensitive information. It released all details of Hawrami’s London deals and said all the profits had been accounted for.

The KRG said: “The fact that the minister, like any government official, would have a better view of the oil prospects of the Kurdistan region than the general public was not considered to be insider dealing by the KRG.”

The FSA said it was unable to confirm or deny if Hawrami was under investigation.
 
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