“Shaheen- Dahabi … and Refinerygate Deal in cooperation with ICIJ- International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Süddeutsche Zeitung
Documents, company records, and leaked emails reveal:
*Nader Dahabi supported Shaheen in the Refinery tender.
*Conflict of interests between Khaled Shaheen and Akram Abu Hamdan with Dahabi supporting Shaheen
Part 1 of 2
Investigation team: Musaab Shawabkeh, Emad Rawashdeh
On February 4, 2009, Squire Sanders, a British law firm, sneaked into the office of Former Prime Minister Nader Dahabi, through a letter –we obtained a copy of it- which expressed the interest of a coalition of foreign companies, (their names were not mentioned,) to enter as a strategic partner in the Fourth Expansion project of the Jordanian oil Refinery. Its cost estimated at about two billion US dollars.
The Refinery is a general public shareholding company established in 1956 with government investment of one million Jordanian dinars as part of the overall capital of four million dinars. It began its work to produce oil products and distribute them throughout the kingdom in 1961. The company is the only company of its kind allowed to work in Jordan and it distributes all oil sub products throughout the local market in Jordan. In 2013 the company was able to store 1,627,884 tons of oil. The Company's exclusive monopoly ended in 2008.
Before sunset that day, this letter, from Prime Minister Dahabi, was placed on the desk of the Refinery Company's Former Chairman, Adel Qdah. The enclosed was with a cover letter –we keep a copy of it- marked with the term "urgent". In the cover letter the Prime Minister asks the Chair of the Company to contact the stakeholders to test their seriousness, and to inform him.
The next morning, the Former General Manager of the Refinery Company, Ahmed Rifai, sent a letter to the British Law firm inquiring about the identity of the coalition and its seriousness.
The law firm office answered that the identity of the coalition of foreign companies will be revealed in due time.
The coalition appeared under the name of INFRA MENA LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, an "offshore" company registered in the safe tax haven of Jersey. Offshore companies are companies with a high degree of secrecy, registered in tax free area and are outside the judicial reach of their governments.
This investigation is part of an international joint effort for 330 investigative journalists around the world led by the Washington, DC-based ICIJ- International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on documents, official records and leaked emails for offshore companies in 12 safe havens around the world covering the period 1978-2015.
This investigation reveals circumstances that have not been published before on the issue of the oil Refinery’s Fourth Expansion project, in addition to the issues of the economic feasibility study to drag the Disi water, the commission of the Armed Forces building, and the businessman Khaled Shaheen and his relationship with all of them.
This investigation also uncovers the support given by Jordan's Prime Minister Nader Dahabi’s during his premiership from (2007-2009) for Infra (MENA) to enter into the Jordan Refinery’s Fourth Expansion project, which has not been achieved yet.
With the termination of the exclusivity period, the government moved towards the open market policy. So it decided not to grant the exclusive monopoly to the Refinery, according to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources stated strategy at that time.
Who is the owner today?
After 60 days of Dahabi’s message, the British lawyer, Brian McLeod, Infra (MENA)’s agent, signed with the Petroleum Refinery Company a secret memorandum of understanding-we have a copy of it- to enter as a strategic partner.
They are companies registered outside their countries and specifically in secure tax havens like Jersey, Panama, Sea Shell and British Virgin Islands. These areas are known to be able to provide the clients with total secrecy of the shareholders and the capital. Also it is very easy to register these companies as this can be done by phone or email with cost not exceeding $100.
The identity of Infra (MENA) remained unknown. Who is the owner? Who runs it? Which bank is funding it? This is one of the purposes of the offshore companies’ registration in tax havens, according to Dr. Fayyad Qdah, Former Anti-Corruption Commission member.
Daoud Suleiman, a Council Member of the Refinery, said in front of the at that time that, "Infra (MENA) is a vague and obscure company to me.”
Doubts leaked into the heart of MP and Board Council Member at that time, Abdul Rahim Biqai, that the owner of the company is an Israeli, but McLeod denied it, only to say that "the owner is among important and influential people in the region."
"We started to believe that influential people are behind this company," Former Member of the Refinery Board Council, and Former Minister of Industry and Commerce, Wasef Azar told the Attorney General.
At the end of September 2009, and in the debate over the identity of Infra (Mena) Company and who is behind it, Infra (MENA) sent a message about the offer to the Refinery Board Council, signed by Khaled Shaheen - a Jordanian businessman, without stating his position on it.
Ahmed Rifai, Former CEO of the Refinery, said "I felt that Khalid Shaheen is supported by high authorities. Since five years or more, the Refinery requested the exclusivity without obtaining it only during Khalid Shaheen’s period- and for 15 years- when it was presented by Infra (MENA)", according to his testimony in front of the Anti-Corruption Commission , on 06/01/2010- we have a copy of it.
Infra (MENA) is one of at least 26 off-shore companies, in which Khaled Shaheen has the lion’s share of ownership, is registered in three safe havens (Jersey, British Virgin Islands, and Panama). Two of these companies Ole Holdings Limited & (SBIG.SA) own more than 95% of the stock of nine Jordanian companies out of 34 companies, in which Khaled Shaheen participates in. This allowed him in a legal way to avoid paying taxes on his profits from these two foreign companies which are shareholders in the 12 companies. We will detail this issue more in the second investigation.
“I know that the son of the Prime Minister (meaning Dahabi) has a relationship with the company. The president is pushing and the Prime Minister is pushing,” says Wasef Azar, a member of the Refinery’s Board at the time, speaking to Radio al Balad team.
Dahabi denies to Radio al Balad investigative team any relationship with the Infra (MENA) company saying “It is not true that I supported them to get the tender. The Refinery is private shareholding company. It is free and responsible for what it decides. The Prime Ministry’s role is restricted only to the issue of the exclusivity.”
“Shaheen was in constant contact and meeting with Prime Minister Dahabi at the Prime Ministry. He would come at least twice a week. Dahabi worked to ensure that Infra (MENA) receives the Refinery’s tender because he was the only one applying for it and the PM worked to make sure he got it,” says Mohammad Rawashdeh the Economic Advisor to Prime Minister Dahabi in his deposition to the Attorney General on December 31st 2009.
Shaheen describes his relationship with Dahabi during the latter’s period as Prime Minister to be “excellent”, according to his deposition to the Attorney General. Shaheen also states “Dahabi knew that I had a relationship with the Infra (Mena) company, he stated to the Attorney General. This was not denied by Dahabi in his interview with Radio al Balad investigative team.
As to his relationship with Shaheen, Dahabi said to Radio al Balad investigators “Khaled Shaheen wanted to travel to attend the graduation of his son and he was barred from travel by the intelligence service. He visited me at the Prime Ministry and I helped him because this was a humanitarian case and there was no problem on him. This is why my relationship with him is considered excellent,” he said to Radio al Balad.
Infra (MENA) and the Refinery
The Executive Director of the Refinery at the time, Ahmad Rifai, told the Attorney General, “Infra (MENA) applied to the Prime Minister directly and he turned over the request to us to study it.”
“If Khaled Shaheen had not infiltrated the state, the Company would not have come via the Prime Minister and said that it is willing to carry out the project for about $300-400 million more than what we had estimated,” Refinery Board Member Azar told Radio al Balad.
On August 6th 2009 the Prime Minister Nader Dahabi informed his Economic Advisor, Mohammad Rawashdeh, that there was an offer made by the Infra (Mena) company and that this investor must be given a monopoly for a period of time, according to the testimony given by Rawashdeh to the Attorney General.
Khaldoun Qtaishat was the head of the committee established by Prime Minister Dahabi to study the issue of the monopoly in his capacity as the Minister of Energy. Rawashdeh says in his testimony that "Qtaishat was opposed to the idea of a monopoly because he believed in open markets. Dahabi invited him to a meeting a day before and told him that he wanted that, and the same was said to me by the Minister.”
The committee met a second time and it decided at the end of the meeting to grant the monopoly.
Adel Qdah, the Chairman of the Board of the Refinery at the time and a member of the committee, can’t explain how the members of the committee changed their mind. Why were some members against granting a monopoly in the first meeting, but voted in the second meeting to grant it, says Qdah in his deposition to the Attorney General. “The Prime Minister didn’t ask me personally to vote one way or another on the issue of the monopoly.”
In his testimony Rifai said: “When I read the letter of the Prime Minister Dahabi which talks about the offer given by Infra (Mena) I understood the direction of Dahabi towards reconsidering the idea of looking for alternatives and moving towards giving monopoly to this company and for a longer period.”
The letter from Dahabi (which we have a copy of) states that he has called the committee to meet and to study the offer of a monopoly in order to expand the Refinery based on the offer made by the investor Infra (Mena).
In a challenging tone Dahabi told Radio al Balad investigators “I didn’t pressure the committee or any of its members in regards to the monopoly. And anyone who says the opposite can confront me.” He adds “if a member doesn’t agree, he should abstain and refuse to sign. Courage can’t be accomplished retroactively.”
Prison term for the Refinery bosses
When the Dahabi government was changed on December 9th 2009, Samir Rifai set up his government. He came to the Prime Ministry from the position of the Executive Director of the Dubai Capital Company, which had participated in the tender for the Fourth Expansion of the Refinery. One day after the constitutional swearing on December 15th 2009, Samir Rifai set up a Cabinet level committee to study the issue of the Fourth Expansion for the Refinery.
Ten days later, the committee said in a report that it “found defects” and on that same day, Rifai turned over the file to the Anti Corruption Commission.
The government turned the case to the State Security Court. No accusation was made to Prime Minister Dahabi, but the charge of bribery was made to Shaheen, Qdah, Rawashdeh, and Ahmad Rifai for hiding the second report of the cabinet number 5954. The decision issued on the first of September 2009 included the agreement on giving a monopoly for 15 years and the need to negotiate with all the companies that showed or will show interest in the monopoly until the end of 2009. This was sent to the Refinery on 10th of September 2016.
After five days and due to a heated discussion between PM Dahabi and Members of the parliament held in the Akef al Fayez hall regarding the unknown owner of the company while giving priority to a Jordanian investor, the Prime Ministry was forced to withdraw its decision and replace it with another one with a new date written by hand unlike all other documents of the Prime Ministry. The new document, with the same date and number as the old one, had a different content.
The new document allowed all companies that were interested in applying for the expansion of the Refinery to apply without setting a date, as the report of the Attorney General states. This second document included two clauses not in the interest of Infra Mena and as a result Qdah, Ahmad Rifai with the knowledge of Rawashdeh, hid this document and kept working with the first one which had never been officially cancelled.
The court ruled to imprison Adel Qdah, the Chairman of the Board of the Refinery and Ahmad Rifai, the CEO, and Mohammad Rawashdeh, the Advisor in the Prime Ministry's office as well as Khaled Shaheen. They were sentenced to three years in jail with hard labor and were relieved of all their posts, according to the court's final decision. The court refused to hear the testimony of Dahabi and Rifai as requested by the Defense Attorney.
Dahabi told Radio al Balad investigative team that he wanted to have his request to testify be approved. He also states that what Samir Rifai (the Prime Minister that came after him) was a conflict of interest because the company that Rifai headed (Dubai Capital) had also applied for the Refinery expansion.
Samir Rifai's office rejected the claim of conflict of interest. In a reply to Radio al Balad, Rifai's office stated that Samir Rifai didn't own a single share in Dubai Capital since its establishment and until the last day of his job as Prime Minister. Rifai's office also stated that there was no decision by the company whether it planned to participate or not in the tender for the monopoly even though the company did send a letter of interest like many other companies. Rifai's office is astonished by the words of Dahabi to Radio al Balad. "Jordan is a state of law and institutions and not a country of individuals and as a Former Prime Minister, if he made these statements, to know this more than any other person," the statement from Samir Rifai's office concluded.
Shaheen Fund, and conflicts of interest
While Khaled Shaheen was held in a jail, Former Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Samih Bino, announced at a press conference on August 7th, 2012, about transferring both issues of economic and social feasibility study to drag the Disi water, and commission of the Armed Forces Building, to the judiciary.
Bino hinted during his press conference about Shaheen’s relationship with the two cases, and their hero, Akram Abu Hamdan, Commissioner General of the Development and Investment projects fund of the Jordan Armed Forces and Security Corps (2001-2011), according to the Anti-Corruption Commission website.
The fund to support investments projects in the Armed and Security Forces was established in a regulation carrying the number 67 in 2004 as published in the official gazette. The fund is administratively and financially independent.
Radio al Balad's investigation reveals that Khaled Shaheen and his partner, Akram Abu Hamdan, founded during the work of the latter as Commissioner General of the projects Fund, the REAL ESTATE INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT LIMITED in the British Virgin Islands on 10/05/2005, with a capital of US $ 50,000 each one a half.
In that period, the Invest Corp Securities, Ltd. belonging to Shaheen, signed two agreements with the Fund.
Invest Corp Securities Limited is a company registered on (13/5/2002) in the British Virgin Islands, with a capital of 50 thousand dollars, and owned by both Khaled Shaheen, and Shaheen Group for business and investment in Luxembourg "SBIG S.A".
While Invest Corp Securities received approximately $ 16.5 million under the agreements, the Fund lost that amount.
The cost of the economic and social feasibility study project to drag the Disi water to Amman under the agreement between the Fund and the company is $ 60 million, of which $ 1.950 million was paid as a down payment.
This installment has been transferred to the account of the company "SBG S.A, registered as a company offshore in Luxembourg and owned by Khalid Shaheen and his two brothers, rather than Invest Corp Securities Ltd., after twisting the agreement fees, changing the recipient's name, according to the Anti-Corruption Commission website.
The company, Invest Corp Securities Ltd, took the remaining $ 14.5 million as a commission for providing fund for the construction of the Armed Forces building (next to the Medical City), according to the Anti-Corruption Commission website.
The State Security Court studied the issue of the Disi Water, which was submitted by the Anti Corruption Commission, and while it sentenced Akram Abu Hamdan with a temporary hard labor for three years on charges of exploitation of position, in this case, the public banned, for reasons related to the court, prosecuting Shaheen in this case, after reconciling and reimbursing the amount received unjustly from both cases of the Disi water and the commission of the Armed Forces building, according to a journalist’s statement of the Former Chief Public , Yousef Al-Hmoud.
The investigation team sent a message to Akram Abu Hamdan, which was received by his attendant on his behalf, from Al-Balad radio offices in Amman requesting answers to the investigation’s questions, but he did not reply, despite it was sent a second time to his mobile phone via WhastApp messaging service.
History of Infra (MENA)
INFRA (MENA) LIMITED PARTNERSHIP was registered in Jersey as an offshore company with anonymous capital and partners, on 5/3/2009, i.e. just one month before signing the agreement with the Refinery and one month after the law firm sent a message to the Prime Minister.
INFRA (MENA) did not present a commercial registration, or a registration certificate of the Refinery, according to Abdul-Karim Alaween’s testimony, Former Executive Director of the Refinery to the .
Shaheen manipulated the naming of the company - as shown in the investigation file- since the agreement was signed and submitted to the Refinery under the name of "INFRA (MENA) LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, while all subsequent letters of the Refinery was under the name of "INFRA (MENA) PARTNERSHIP LIMITED", which is registered in Jersey companies’ registry.
Two month before Shaheen sent the first of his letters, he communicated with Mossack Fonseca company in Panama specialized in the registration of companies around the world, to register the company under the name of "INFRA (MENA) LIMITED PARTNERSHIP ", in the British Virgin Islands, according to e-mails leaked from Mossack, and we got a copy of them.
Mossak office told Shaheen that it is not permitted to register the name, because it is not permitted to register a company’s name ending with the word "PARTNERSHIP".
Shaheen decided to register "INFRA (MENA) LIMITED" on 06/22/2009, with a capital of US$50,000, which all its shares is owned by "THARWA INVESMENTS S.A" company owned by Khalid Shaheen and his wife Manal Awad.
Infra (MENA), registered in Jersey, have not paid since 2012, and until 2016, the registration fees to Jersey Investment Services Authority, according to the Investment Services Authority website in Jersey.
"Invest corp" violating the law
The company “Invest Corp Securities Ltd" is not registered in Jordan, pursuant to the provisions of the Jordanian Companies Law and its amendments, in accordance with the Jordanian companies registry.
Investment Securities Corps Limited
- established in May 13th 2002.
Changed its name in 2006 to be Investment Promotes for Security Services
- in 2008 it was cancelled.
- in 2011 it returned under the name Investment Corp for Financial Services.
- Khaled Shaheen owns all the shares in this company.
The company violated Article (230 / b) of the Companies Act by signing at least two contracts with the Development and Investment Projects Fund for the Armed Forces and Security Agencies, of which it obtained nearly $ 16.5 million.
The paragraph of Article (240 / b) of the Jordanian Companies Law No. 57 of 2006, states "No foreign company or entity may exercise any commercial business in the Kingdom unless it is registered in accordance with the provisions of this Law after obtaining a permit to operate, pursuant to the applicable Laws and regulations".
Dr. Mahmoud Ababneh, Former Company Registrar said, "A company not registered and not licensed at the companies’ registry, exercising economic activities is committing a crime punishable by law."
Bigger than Prime Minister
Dahabi tried to hide behind the palace when the dispute between Ministers intensified on the exclusive monopoly topic.
Dahabi resolved the debate by saying, "His Majesty the King wants the Refinery, and that means the success of the subject of the strategic partner and granting the exclusivity," according to Mohammed Rawashdeh’s testimony in front of the , and who attended the meeting, then he continues saying "the Council of Ministers agreed to grant the exclusivity."
Mohammed Khalayleh attended the first meeting of the Committee for the Study of the Refinery exclusivity during his work as Secretary-General of the Court of Audit, "Dahabi told them that the King wants to keep the Refinery as a Jordanian company, without going into details", according to Khalayleh’s testimony before the Prosecutor.
Dahabi did not deny what he said at the meeting, and explained, "the decision to keep the Refinery or open the market for importation such as Lebanon, is a decision bigger than the Prime Minister!
To resolve the decision, Former Royal Court Chief Nasser Laozi and Jafar Hassan, as well, came from the Court, to the Prime Ministry and Laozi said, "We want a Refinery in the country," according to Dahabi, who tried to explain his word by saying that the King wants a Refinery.
What about the general mandate of the government? Dahabi replied, "The Constitution states that the king rules through his Ministers."
In the Absence Presence
Radio al Balad investigation team sent on 28/02/2016 a written message via express mail to Tharwa Middle Eastern company owned and managed by Khalid Shaheen, and another letter to his home, and text messages over the phone; the team contacted also his sister to take his response to all the issues contained in the investigation, but did not receive an answer despite the deadline granted to him.
According to official information, Khaled Shaheen who was sentenced in early 2016 to two years of imprisonment for writing a check without balance has left the country to Lebanon on 11/15/2015, and did not return to Jordan until the date of publishing this investigation.
Dahabi: The secret will die with me!
The investigation team reviewed Shaheen deals in the public projects, in front of Dahabi, and asked him ‘who support the man’, cautiously he replied:
- There are things in Jordan that can be said, and other things that can’t be said, and those that can’t be said will descend with you in the grave. Whether you wish it or not, and all Prime Ministers know this.
- Who stand behind Shaheen?
- This information will descend with me in the grave, it will not be said.