On Tuesday 24 February APPG Vice-Chair Tessa Munt MP led a Westminster Hall Debate calling for UK and US authorities to investigate claims that Soco International, a London-listed oil company, may have breached anti-corruption legislation in the course of its work in Africa’s oldest national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Analysis by Global Witness, based in part on undercover footage shot by the makers of the Oscar-nominated ‘Virunga’ documentary, showed that Soco and its contractors have made illicit payments, appear to have paid off armed rebels and talked dismissively about the ecosystem of Virunga National Park. Soco’s oil block overlaps with Virunga, a UNESCO World Heritage site in eastern Congo that is home to around a quarter of world’s remaining mountain gorillas.
Soco denies the allegations made against it in the documentary and in Global Witness’ report, Drillers in the Mist, saying in June 2014: “the Company operates in accordance with the Bribery Act 2010 and any allegation to the contrary is categorically denied.” It added: “[p]ayments to rebel groups have never been nor will ever be sanctioned by Soco”.
At Tuesday’s Westminster Hall debate Tessa Munt said: “It is surely incumbent on the UK government and its agencies to ensure that any credible evidence of corruption and other criminal behaviour by a UK company, as we have here, is fully investigated by the relevant authorities.”
The APPG Vice-Chair explained that Soco’s American executive directors are employed by a Delawarer egistered subsidiary. As a result, she said, “these individuals fall within the jurisdiction of the United States, and there seems to be a case to be made that Soco International, under their stewardship, has breached the terms of America’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”
Anas Sarwar MP, APPG co-Chair, also raised concerns about the involvement of offshore companies in Soco’s corporate structure.
David Lidington MP, the Foreign Office Minister responding on behalf of the government, said that the UK’s Serious Fraud Office was aware of allegations against Soco and that he would look into the channels for exchanging information with US authorities.
“The government’s long-standing position has been and remains to oppose all oil exploration in Virunga National Park,” said Lidington, before adding that the UK would object to “any attempt by Soco to seek the redrawing of the boundaries of Virunga”. The
government supports an alternative economic vision for Virunga based on fisheries, ecotourism and hydropower, he added.
The debate, “Allegations of misconduct and human rights abuse by a British oil exploration firm in Democratic Republic of Congo”, can be watched here from 16:00:00.