Big oil queried about Alaska bribery scandal, Former legislator convicted; executives face trial

Big oil queried about Alaska bribery scandal, Former legislator convicted; executives face trial by Reuters, October 10, 2007, Edmonton Journal
Alaska lawmakers are questioning major oil companies over their role in a bribery scheme that has netted the criminal convictions of a former legislator and two former executives from VECO Corp., once the state’s largest oil-service company. BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil have denied involvement in the ongoing political corruption scandal in which the VECO officials used bribes to push for a favourable outcome in an oil-tax overhaul.

State Senator Hollis French and state Rep. Les Gara, both Anchorage Democrats, sent letters to the top Alaska oil executives asking what they knew of VECO Corp’s illegal acts and how much they co-ordinated with the company during last year’s tax debate. The letters come after the trial of former House Speaker Pete Kott, a Republican convicted of bribery, extortion and conspiracy concerning the overhaul of the state’s oil-tax system. Another former lawmaker is due to go on trial later this month on similar bribery charges.

The Kott trial unearthed a tape-recorded telephone conversation between Bill Allen, former chief executive of VECO, and ConocoPhillips Alaska President Jim Bowles concerning attempts to squelch a version of the tax they disliked. “There’s a discussion about hiding people’s fingerprints,” Gara said. “I don’t know if that’s illegal or just questionable. It’s questionable that an oil company executive would be working with two felons to hide fingerprints.”

Representatives of the oil producers have defended their companies’ records. “Our dealings with the legislature have been straightforward and aboveboard,” said BP Exploration Alaska Inc. spokesman Daren Beaudo. “We’ve not been involved in any misconduct. We’ve been in contact with government representatives who’ve given us reason to believe we are not under any suspicion.”

An Exxon Mobil spokesman gave a similar response. “To the best of our knowledge, ExxonMobil is not the subject of any inquiry and we have received no indication from the government or other sources to suggest any actions by company employees were unlawful,” spokesman Len D’Eramo said in an e-mail.

In a letter sent to ConocoPhillips employees last month, Bowles said he had no knowledge of Allen’s illegal activities during last year’s oil-tax debate. “Furthermore, ConocoPhillips has not been subpoenaed for this or any other trial related to the federal government’s corruption investigation, nor has it received any indication from the Department of Justice that it, or any of its employees, is an object of that investigation,” Bowles’s letter said.

Meanwhile, the oil producers and their allies are fighting attempts by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to rewrite the scandal-clouded tax bill. Palin has called the legislature into special session later this month to consider the issue. To counter Palin’s proposed tax rewrite the oil producers have mounted a publicity campaign questioning the state’s investment climate.

REFILE: Alaska lawmakers query Big Oil in bribery scandal by Yereth Rosen, October 10, 2007, Reuters (Refiles, adds full name of former VECO CEO….)
The Kott trial unearthed a tape-recorded telephone conversation between Bill Allen, former chief executive of VECO, and ConocoPhillips Alaska President Jim Bowles concerning attempts to squelch a version of the tax they disliked.

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