An oil company run by a major Tory donor who met with Boris Johnson has had a billion pound deal underwritten by the British taxpayer despite it being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office, The Independent can reveal.

Ayman Asfari, the chief executive of Petrofac, has given hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Conservatives over the past decade and held private meetings with the prime minister and other senior Tories to discuss the war in Syria.

Documents obtained by The Independent show that Mr Asfari met with Mr Johnson in August 2016, just a month after he began his controversial period as foreign secretary.

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Details of the meetings emerged as Mr Johnson was facing separate questions over access and grants provided to his friend, businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri, during his time as London mayor.

The following year, the Serious Fraud Office launched an investigation into Petrofac, a multi-national oil company, relating to suspected bribery, corruption and money laundering.

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UK news in pictures

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UK news in pictures

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4/50 23 September 2019

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5/50 22 September 2019

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6/50 21 September 2019

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11/50 16 September 2019

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12/50 15 September 2019

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17/50 10 September 2019

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24/50 3 September 2019

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28/50 30 August 2019

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33/50 25 August 2019

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34/50 24 August 2019

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36/50 22 August 2019

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37/50 21 August 2019

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38/50 20 August 2019

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39/50 19 August 2019

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40/50 18 August 2019

England fielders crowd Pat Cummins as he see’s out the final over during day five of the second Ashes Test match against Australia at Lord’s Cricket Ground. The test ended in a draw

41/50 17 August 2019

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44/50 14 August 2019

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45/50 12 August 2019

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46/50 11 August 2019

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47/50 10 August 2019

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48/50 9 August 2019

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49/50 8 August 2019

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1/50 26 September 2019

England’s Jonathan Joseph is tackled by United State’s Marcel Brache during their group match at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. England scored seven tries on their way to winning 45-7

2/50 25 September 2019

Tributes for former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen at Ibrox Stadium. Today, the funeral procession will pass Ibrox Stadium before making the journey to Wellington Church

3/50 24 September 2019

A person dressed as a caricature of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a prison uniform stands outside the Supreme Court after it ruled that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal

4/50 23 September 2019

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5/50 22 September 2019

Fire performer Penella Bee performs before people take part in the North East Skinny Dip at Druridge Bay in Nothumberland, an annual event that marks the Autumn Equinox and raises money for MIND – the Mental Health Charity

6/50 21 September 2019

Protesters gather for a march and rally organised by “The People’s Vote” in Brighton, to call for politicians to give the public a final say referendum on Brexit

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9/50 18 September 2019

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10/50 17 September 2019

Protesters dressed as the Incredible Hulk and Robocop outside the Supreme Court in London where judges are due to consider legal challenges to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament. The Supreme Court will hear appeals over three days from two separate challenges to the prorogation of Parliament brought in England and Scotland

11/50 16 September 2019

Farmer Tom Hoggard harvests pumpkins at Howe Bridge Farm in Yorkshire, ahead of Halloween

12/50 15 September 2019

Team Europe celebrate winning the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Scotland. Europe won the last three singles matches to claim victory 14½-13½
Sunset at St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay

14/50 13 September 2019

Activists from PETA stage a demonstration outside a venue during London Fashion Week in London, Britain

15/50 12 September 2019

Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne attempts to stop a boundary in the fifth Test

16/50 11 September 2019

Storm clouds gather over the pier just off the North East coast at South Shields

17/50 10 September 2019

The peloton rides past the Angel of the North during stage four of the Tour of Britain from Gateshead to Kendal

18/50 9 September 2019

A penny farthing cyclist rides past St. John’s, Smith Square, Westminster, London

19/50 8 September 2019

Australia celebrate the wicket of England’s Craig Overton, which meant they won the fourth test and retained the Ashes

20/50 7 September 2019

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21/50 6 September 2019

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22/50 5 September 2019

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cuts the hair of David Torrance MSP raising £1000 for the charity Maggie’s Centre in Kirkcaldy at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

23/50 4 September 2019

Australia’s David Warner looks dejected after being dismissed by England’s Stuart Broad during day one of the fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford in Manchester

24/50 3 September 2019

Anti Brexit demonstrators attend a protest at Parliament Square. Lawmakers returned from their summer recess Tuesday for a pivotal day in British politics as they challenged Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s insistence that the UK leave the European Union on 31 October, even without a withdrawal agreement to cushion the economic blow

25/50 2 September 2019

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Members of the Royal Southern Yacht Club and the Island Sailing Club take part during the annual cricket match between the clubs, which takes place on the Bramble Bank sandbank in the middle of the Solent at low tide
Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate at Whitehall in London

28/50 30 August 2019

One of the iconic ‘Girl with Balloon’ artworks by anonymous street artist Banksy is carried near one of the original locations the artwork appeared at on the Southbank in London

29/50 29 August 2019

The sun rises over the sculpture “The Couple” by artist Sean Henry, at Newbiggin-by-the-sea in Northumberland

30/50 28 August 2019

A person wearing a Boris Johnson ‘head’ digs a grave at the foot of a tombstone during a protest organised by Avaaz and Best for Britain, outside Downing Street in London

31/50 27 August 2019

Nat Lofthouse statue is covered in flags at the University of Bolton Stadium, Bolton

32/50 26 August 2019

Performers take part in Notting Hill Carnival. Nearly one million people were expected to attend Sunday and Monday’s carnival to celebrate Caribbean culture

33/50 25 August 2019

A competitor swims in the World Bog Snorkelling Championships in Llanwryd Wells, Powys

34/50 24 August 2019

People flock to Bournemouth beach as a heatwave spells potentially record high temperatures for the bank holiday weekend

35/50 23 August 2019

Fans of Bury FC deliver a symbolic coffin to the club’s home at Gigg Lane as the continuation of their membership to the football league lies in doubt. The club will lose their membership at midnight if they don’t find a buyer or prove that they have the means to pay off their debts

36/50 22 August 2019

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow DEFRA Secretary Sue Hayman during a visit to Rakefoot Farm, Castlerigg, Keswick where they are highlighting the danger of a No Deal Brexit to sheep farmers

37/50 21 August 2019

Festival goers walk along the towpath of the River Thames as they arrive for the Reading Festival at Richfield Avenue

38/50 20 August 2019

Police officers gather to pay their respects at the scene near Ufton Lane, where Thames Valley Police officer PC Andrew Harper, 28, died on Thursday. Jed Foster, 20, has appeared at Reading Magristrates’ Court where denied any involvement with the murder

39/50 19 August 2019

A fire that broke out at the site of Village Bakery on Coed Aben Road, Wrexham Industrial Estate in Wales

40/50 18 August 2019

England fielders crowd Pat Cummins as he see’s out the final over during day five of the second Ashes Test match against Australia at Lord’s Cricket Ground. The test ended in a draw

41/50 17 August 2019

Glew (centre) and Monroe Adams (right) pose for a selfie with a member of the public outside DragWorld London 2019, Europe’s largest drag convention, featuring drag stars from the US and UK during a two-day event at Olympia, London

42/50 16 August 2019

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43/50 15 August 2019

A flock of sheep are herded past government buildings in London by members of Farmers for a People’s Vote, a campaign group

44/50 14 August 2019

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks during a press conference at the Mayflower Marina in Plymouth, southwest England, on August 14, 2019, ahead of her journey across the Atlantic to New York, aboard the Malizia II IMOCA class sailing yacht, where she will attend the UN Climate Action Summit next month. – A year after her school strike made her a figurehead for climate activists, Greta Thunberg believes her uncompromising message about global warming is getting through — even if action remains thin on the ground. The 16-year-old Swede, who sets sail for New York this week to take her message to the United States, has been a target for abuse but sees that as proof she is having an effect

45/50 12 August 2019

A hare runs on a moor near Ripon, North Yorkshire

46/50 11 August 2019

Britain’s Jamie Chadwick wins first-ever W Series title. She pocketed a prize of £410,000 and, having been signed as a development driver for Williams, she keeps up her hopes of making it into Formula One

47/50 10 August 2019

People gather on the beach as a raft carrying people dressed as clowns heads to shore during the annual Whitby Regatta in Whitby, England. At over 170 years old, the Whitby Regatta is thought to be the oldest sea regatta on the northeast coast of England and draws thousands of visitors each year

48/50 9 August 2019

Burryman Andrew Taylor, gets a nip of whisky using a straw, from resident Mary Hamblin, 82, as he parades through the town of South Queensferry, near Edinburgh, encased in burrs. The parade takes place on the second Friday of August each year and although the exact meaning of this tradition has been lost through the years it is thought to have begun in the 17th Century. The tradition is believed to bring good luck to the towns people if they give him whisky offered through a straw or a donation of money

49/50 8 August 2019

A mosque is seen amongst residential housing from the air during a mass take off at the annual Bristol hot air balloon festival in Bristol
An Asiatic lioness eats meat during feeding time ahead of World Lion Day at London Zoo

Petrofac’s former global head of sales, David Lufkin, pleaded guilty to 11 counts of bribery earlier this year after offering cash payments to middlemen to secure lucrative refinery contracts worth £4.2bn in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Other senior managers have been accused of participating in schemes to pay bribes in attempts to secure contracts in ongoing investigations. 

But despite the company being embroiled in scandal, it has secured a £733.5m loan guarantee from the UK government.

UK Export Finance (UKEF), a government body housed in the Department for International Trade, is responsible for underwriting the loan which helped secure a £1.6bn contract to develop the Duqm refinery project in Oman.

According to Electoral Commission figures, Mr Asfari and his wife have donated £860,450 in cash to the party since 2009.

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Freedom of information requests show that in summer 2016 Mr Asfari held meetings with Philip Hammond, the former foreign secretary, and Neil Crompton, the director of the Middle East and North Africa Department at the Foreign Office, as well as Mr Johnson, to discuss the military conflict in Syria.

According to the Financial Times, the SFO investigation into Petrofac led to the company’s order books taking a substantial hit. In addition, the Iraqi government has temporarily debarred Petrofac from bidding on any new contracts until the SFO investigation is completed.

But the reach of the SFO investigation and charges brought against Petrofac employees did not deter UKEF from supporting the company.

The first due diligence UKEF conducted on the project came several months after the SFO’s original announcement of the investigation into Petrofac.

During the same time period, UKEF officials met with Petrofac counterparts on six occasions to discuss the project with the last meeting being held in April 2019 before UKEF announced its support for the project.

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Barry Gardiner, shadow secretary of state for international trade, raised concerns about UKEF supporting the deal. “Senior global leaders, including Ban Ki-Moon and Graca Machel of [NGO] The Elders, have called out our Tory government’s hypocrisy for underwriting or supporting massive fossil fuel projects overseas whilst pretending to be tackling climate change at home,” he said.

“That this particular project happens to be in support of a company that is being investigated for corruption in its overseas dealings and is headed by a major donor to the Tories shows again that it’s one rule for them and another for everybody else.”

Export credit agencies such as UKEF consent to work within specific standards that are agreed upon by wealthy nations at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Companies wishing to obtain support must declare any ongoing court cases on applications thereby triggering enhanced checks.

The project is a joint venture between Oman’s state owned oil company (OOC) and Kuwait Petroleum International. When operational it is expected to produce 230,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

As per the structure of the transaction, the project promoter in Oman takes out loans from a consortium of banks to finance the purchase of capital goods from Petrofac and other suppliers. A portion of the loan is then subsequently guaranteed by UKEF meaning that if the promoter were unable to meet the repayments to Petrofac then the UK taxpayer would step in.

A UKEF spokesperson said the organisation “rigorously” follows OECD standards on anti-bribery and corruption. “UKEF’s role is to ensure no viable UK export fails for lack of finance or insurance from the private sector, supporting the UK economy and jobs. We take all reasonable precautions to avoid supporting transactions that may be tainted by corruption.”

A spokesperson for Petrofac said: “Mr Asfari’s meetings with two government ministers in 2016 were in a personal capacity to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria and his family foundation’s response to those impacted. These meetings are a matter of public record. They were entirely unrelated to UKEF’s decision to grant a loan guarantee as part of multibillion dollar, multi-source project financing for a project in the Middle East for which Petrofac is one of many international companies providing services.”

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “This loan guarantee is a matter for UK Export Finance. All donations to the Conservative party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law.”