A flurry of denials over Ugandan bribery cable

Last week, you’ll recall, WikiLeaks brought us the story of a meeting a year ago between Jerry Lanier, the U.S. ambassador to Uganda, and Tim O’Hanlon, an executive of Britain’s Tullow Oil, which was trying to buy a stake in a pair of big Ugandan oil fields at the time. Lanier’s cable paraphrases O’Hanlon as ...

U.S. Defense Department via Wikimedia Commons
U.S. Defense Department via Wikimedia Commons
U.S. Defense Department via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, you'll recall, WikiLeaks brought us the story of a meeting a year ago between Jerry Lanier, the U.S. ambassador to Uganda, and Tim O'Hanlon, an executive of Britain's Tullow Oil, which was trying to buy a stake in a pair of big Ugandan oil fields at the time. Lanier's cable paraphrases O'Hanlon as saying that two other companies had somehow swooped in and grabbed the deal out of Tullow's hands. The suggestion was that a Ugandan minister had been paid off.

Not so, say almost all of those mentioned in the Lanier cable. Last Friday, O'Hanlon wrote a letter to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, saying that Lanier got the story all wrong. He had heard the talk circulating of such backroom dealing, O'Hanlon wrote, but he never believed it. "I have no evidence implicating the honorable ministers in corruption and have no reason to believe that the rumors sweeping Kampala at the time were actually true," O'Hanlon wrote.

Last week, you’ll recall, WikiLeaks brought us the story of a meeting a year ago between Jerry Lanier, the U.S. ambassador to Uganda, and Tim O’Hanlon, an executive of Britain’s Tullow Oil, which was trying to buy a stake in a pair of big Ugandan oil fields at the time. Lanier’s cable paraphrases O’Hanlon as saying that two other companies had somehow swooped in and grabbed the deal out of Tullow’s hands. The suggestion was that a Ugandan minister had been paid off.

Not so, say almost all of those mentioned in the Lanier cable. Last Friday, O’Hanlon wrote a letter to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, saying that Lanier got the story all wrong. He had heard the talk circulating of such backroom dealing, O’Hanlon wrote, but he never believed it. “I have no evidence implicating the honorable ministers in corruption and have no reason to believe that the rumors sweeping Kampala at the time were actually true,” O’Hanlon wrote.

Amama Mbabazi (above), Uganda’s security minister and the official named in Lanier’s cable — in which Lanier told his superiors that the United States might consider revoking Mbabazi’s U.S. visa — said he was equally perplexed by what the cable had to say about his relationship with Italy’s Eni and Britain’s Heritage Oil. He said:

These allegations are absolutely untrue. I have never received even an offer let alone payment from Heritage or ENI of that kind or for anything. However at that time there was report in The Times of London which did not name anyone but talked about corruption over the deal. What surprised me is that the embassy believes that the allegations are true and concluded that the deal showed signs of high level corruption in Uganda’s oil sector. This is incredible. I am surprised they would make a statement like that without cross checking with me about my alleged involvement.

Eni also said that Lanier was far off the mark, and that it intended legal action against WikiLeaks. “ENI denies the serious allegations which are completely without foundation and has instructed its lawyers to initiate legal proceedings to compensate for any damage caused to the company’s reputation,” a spokesman told Agence France-Presse.

<p> Steve LeVine is a contributing editor at Foreign Policy, a Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation, and author of The Oil and the Glory. </p>

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