Nine officials, executives accused in Oman graft trials

Reuters

DUBAI, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Nine state officials and private sector executives have gone on trial in Oman on charges of taking or offering bribes, in a widening crackdown on corruption in the Gulf sultanate's oil industry and related sectors.

Corruption is a politically sensitive issue in Oman, which saw sporadic street protests against graft and unemployment in 2011 as political unrest gripped other Arab countries.

The charges, mostly involving infrastructure projects, were outlined in six trials that opened on Sunday. The nine accused all denied the charges when they appeared at the Court of First Instance in the capital Muscat.

Eight individuals, including former or serving state officials, face similar charges in four other trials that have opened in the past six weeks.

Sunday's hearings were postponed to Dec. 26 after defence lawyers sought time to review evidence presented by the prosecution.

Among Sunday's cases, Qasim al Shizawi, director-general of ports in the Ministry of Transport and Communications, is accused by state prosecutors of receiving a bribe from Faithi Alaaiddin and Rizq Mustafa, executives at Consolidated Contractors Co - Oman (CCC-Oman), to facilitate several projects.

Spokesmen for the ministry and CCC-Oman could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.

In a second case, prosecutors allege Alaaiddin of CCC-Oman paid a bribe to Adil al Kindi, former chief executive of Oman Oil Refinery Co, to facilitate CCC-Oman operations.

An official at Oman Oil Refineries and Petroleum Industries Co, which now owns Oman Oil Refinery's assets, told Reuters that current management had no details about the case.

In a third case, prosecutors allege an executive they named simply as Muthukumaraswamy of Larsen & Toubro Oman, an affiliate of Indian engineering firm Larsen & Toubro, paid a bribe to Mukhtar Al-Muraza, senior manager at Oman Gas Co.

Yousuf al Ojaili, chief executive of Oman Gas, told Reuters: "I have no comments at this point; the cases are in the court's hands." Attempts to contact a spokesman for Larsen & Toubro Oman were unsuccessful.

Oman is a significant oil producer, pumping around 950,000 barrels per day of crude, with oil and gas sector revenues providing the vast majority of government revenues.

The country is spending heavily to develop its energy and industrial infrastructure in an effort to create jobs for its citizens. On Monday, international oil giant BP signed 30-year deals to develop an Omani gas project with an estimated investment of $16 billion.

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