August 31, 2018 / 11:23 AM / 22 days ago

Court says Swiss can help French in probe of alleged Unaoil corruption

* Swiss court rejects bid to block legal aid to France

* French law enforcement wants Swiss bank account details

* France suspects Parisian firm had "kickbacks" via Unaoil

By John Miller

ZURICH, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Swiss prosecutors can hand over bank account information to France in a case linked to an international investigation into alleged bribery and corruption involving Unaoil, a Monaco-based energy consultancy.

In court documents published this week, the Swiss Federal Criminal Court refused to block the Swiss attorney general's office (OAG) from cooperating with France's request for mutual legal assistance.

France is among countries probing Unaoil's alleged role in funnelling kickbacks from multinational firms to foreign officials to win lucrative oil project contracts.

An international probe into Unaoil became public in 2016, when authorities in Monaco raided its offices as well as homes of its directors after Britain sought help in its probe of alleged corruption.

In May, Britain began proceedings against two Unaoil companies, while the UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has charged at least six individuals. Unaoil has said it would be cleared of wrongdoing. [reut.rs/2C3tCsA ]

Companies including U.S.-based KBR, Britain's Petrofac, Switzerland's ABB and TechnipFMC have said they are cooperating. The United States has related corruption investigations.

Swiss court documents show French law enforcement is probing suspicions that a representative of an unidentified Paris-based company received "kickbacks" via Unaoil-linked entities as part of work with clients in Yemen starting in 2004.

In August 2017, France submitted a request to Switzerland for information about accounts at a Geneva bank.

The account's owner -- a firm not named in Swiss court documents -- in April lodged an appeal seeking to prevent Swiss authorities from cooperating. The account owner argued the French request was incomplete and fraught with "so many irregularities that it had no idea how they could all be corrected," court documents show.

SHROUDED IN DARKNESS

The three-judge Swiss Federal Criminal Court appeals panel rejected the argument, writing in a 12-page ruling that French authorities could not be expected to provide comprehensive facts underpinning their suspicions just to get Swiss help.

"That would be incompatible with the intent of mutual legal assistance, since such requests involve one state asking another for help via documents to clear up details that up to now have been shrouded in darkness," the judges wrote.

The Swiss OAG's office told Reuters on Friday that barring further appeal, France's "mutual legal assistance request should be fully executed in the near future".

A Geneva-based lawyer for the company seeking to block Switzerland from assisting France's probe did not immediately respond to requests for comment. (Reporting by John Miller and Oliver Hirt in Zurich; editing by David Evans)

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