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Die US Gangster: „Todd Kozel “ mit ihrem Öl Bestechungs Geschäften im Irak


The Rise and Fall of a U.S. Oilman in Iraq

An aerial view of a drilling rig operating near Erbil, Kurdistan. Credit: Carlos Cedeno / Alamy by Daniel Balint-Kurti and Will Jordan 22 May 2021

A secret kickback deal with an Iraqi Kurdistan politician made Todd Kozel rich. But an affair and his bitter divorce led him to disgrace.

Key Findings

  • Todd Kozel, founder of London-listed oil company Gulf Keystone, struck a deal to kick back huge revenues to an Iraqi Kurdistan politician’s company in 2007.
  • The Kurdistan deal was later deemed illegal and was voided just weeks before the U.K.’s Bribery Act, which brought tougher rules against international corruption, was passed in April 2010. Still, Gulf Keystone was allowed to keep exploiting the field.
  • U.S. and U.K. authorities failed to act after a whistleblower informed them of the deal and said it amounted to “written corruption.”
  • Not long after the deal was voided, Gulf Keystone funnelled $12 million to an offshore company that was secretly connected to both Kozel and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
  • Kozel used another offshore trust to secretly buy millions of shares in Gulf Keystone the same day the company made its first oil find in Iraq, and three days before it was publicly announced.

The Iraq war was good to American oil baron Todd Kozel. As the country was in the midst of a full-blown insurgency in 2007, his London-listed firm Gulf Keystone signed an agreement with the government of the autonomous region of Kurdistan to exploit its “oil field of dreams.”

The very same day in November, OCCRP has discovered, he struck a deal to kick back potentially huge revenues to a veteran Kurdistan politician’s company in order to secure the oil block.

The deals –– one public and official, the other secret and illegal –– transformed the fortunes of Gulf Keystone and its founder. The company’s operations are now entirely based on the block in question, named Shaikan.

Kozel made more than US$100 million and began to live a lavish lifestyle, flying by private jet and splashing out thousands on fine wines and strippers. He also began an affair that would sow the seeds of his downfall when his subsequent divorce pitted the playboy against his socialite ex-wife in court. The case dredged up previously unknown details of Kozel’s finances, which eventually led to charges against him.

Kozel pleaded not guilty in 2019 to fraud and money laundering. After a secret plea deal, prosecutors downgraded his charges to failure to file tax returns, saying he owed over $22 million on the fortune he made between 2011 and 2015. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charges. Now suffering from throat cancer, Kozel is scheduled to be sentenced at a hearing in New York this summer. Credit: Inga/Instagram Todd Kozel with his wife Inga in a photo posted to her Instagram account.

Kozel’s deal with a company controlled by Izzeddin Berwari, a member of the governing Kurdish Democratic Party’s (KDP) politburo, has not been reported until now. By 2010, Gulf Keystone and the government of Kurdistan had privately agreed that the deal was illegal, and treated it as void, but kept the broader oil concession in place.

A spokesman for Kozel told OCCRP the deal had “nothing to do” with Gulf Keystone receiving the oil production contract.

“These claims from more than a decade ago have been investigated, litigated and adjudicated, with no findings of corruption, fraud, or a failure to disclose by Mr. Kozel,” the spokesperson said.

With the help of a whistleblower, sources familiar with Kozel’s years at the helm of Gulf Keystone, and hundreds of court records and corporate filings, reporters have pieced together the story of Kozel’s rise and fall.

As well as the kickback deal, Kozel is also connected to a company that received a controversial $12 million payment from Gulf Keystone in 2010, according to documents seen by reporters. The finding supports the suspicions of Kozel’s ex-wife that he personally benefited from the arrangement.

A spokesman for Kozel said that he was neither a shareholder nor executive of the company that received the $12 million, nor did he have any management control.

Court papers also show how he profited from insider trading, secretly buying and selling shares through an offshore trust in Jersey, a British Crown Dependency. One trade took place the same day oil was first struck at Shaikan — but three days before shareholders were informed.

A spokesperson for Kozel said the trades were investigated by British officials, who found no violations. (Stock exchange officials and financial regulators would not confirm or deny the existence of any investigation to reporters)

The fact that Kozel got away with the trades highlights the City of London’s blind spot for secretly-owned offshore companies. Despite a stream of scandals, often centered around these opaque corporate vehicles, London’s Alternative Investment Market, where Gulf Keystone was listed until 2014, has done little to address the issue.

War and Oil

When the U.S. and the U.K. invaded Iraq in 2003, Kozel was just another “wildcat” explorer looking for black gold beneath the sand. He had an operation in Algeria, but it was nothing compared to what he would go on to establish.

“I thought I had been a master of the universe,” he later said. “But I found out there was a much bigger universe than I was even aware of.”

The new universe began opening up in Kurdistan, an autonomous region in northern Iraq that welcomed international oil exploration. On November 6, 2007, Gulf Keystone landed the rights to the Shaikan oil field, which Kozel claimed could yield up to 15 billion barrels –– more than 20 times the eventual reserves figure. It was what he described as “virgin territory… an oil man’s dream.” Credit: Gulf Keystone An image of the Shaikan oil field taken from a Gulf Keystone promotional video.

After it announced its first find in August 2009, the oil company was transformed into a hotly traded multimillion-dollar enterprise. Its market value leapt from 359 million British pounds to 3 billion. Kozel’s yearly compensation peaked at $22 million in 2011, one of the highest CEO pay packages in the U.K., and nearly $7 million more than the head of Shell received that year.

But such generosity would not have been possible without a secret agreement Kozel signed on November 6, 2007, with Berwari, the Kurdish KDP politician, who also ran an influential company called Dabin Group, based in Iraqi Kurdistan. Credit: United World Izzeddin Berwari pictured in a promotional article for the Dabin Group.

Under the terms of this deal — which was called a “Representation Agreement” and contained an expansive confidentiality clause — Dabin Group, with Berwari as executive chairman, was to provide “general consulting and government relations services related to securing and subsequently managing” the oil concession.

Dabin would also be tasked with “arranging meetings with and introductions to political and financial organisations and individuals in Kurdistan and Iraq.”

In exchange, it was promised 10 percent of Gulf Keystone’s net revenues from operating the oil field, for up to 25 years.

The existence of the agreement between Kozel and Berwari has never before been reported. However, it was presented as evidence in a London court case that ran from 2011 to 2013, which was brought by a company run by former U.S. special forces soldier Rex Wempen, who had acted as a fixer for Gulf Keystone and claimed he was owed millions for helping it obtain the oil field.

The judgment in the court case revealed that on November 5, 2007, a day before the Representation Agreement was signed, Kozel enjoyed a barbeque at Berwari’s home. They were joined by Iraqi Kurdistan’s Minister of Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami, who along with the prime minister and his deputy, was in charge of granting oil concessions.

An oil consultant before the Iraq war, Hawrami owned a large home in the well-heeled British town of Henley-on-Thames. As the judgment noted, the minister had a relationship with Kozel going back to before his appointment, and a subsidiary of Hawrami’s company had prepared a report for Gulf Keystone ahead of a share issue three years earlier.

While Gulf Keystone won the case against the ex-soldier, the judgment detailed a series of events in early 2010 that led the company and the Ministry of Natural Resources to agree that the profit-sharing agreement with Dabin violated Kurdish oil law. The law prohibits a public officer like Berwari from acquiring “a benefit or an interest” in an oil concession, directly or indirectly. Credit: Chatham House Ashti Hawrami at Chatham House in London in 2010…..

https://www.occrp.org/en/investigations/the-rise-and-fall-of-a-us-oilman-in-iraq

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