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Soma exec quits to be Somalia PM

Africa director of UK player that saw fraud probe dropped in December resigns to become new prime minister

Soma Oil & Gas director Hassan Khaire has resigned from the private UK player after being named as the new prime minister of the oil company’s country of operation, Somalia.

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Khaire, who was Soma’s executive director for Africa, was handed the top governmental role following the recent election victory by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.

A statement from London-based Soma, which in December saw a UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into its activities in the war-torn Horn of Africa nation closed, said Khaire has “resigned from the board and has relinquished all his shares in the company”.

“Hassan Khaire has been a highly valued member of its management team but we fully understand his decision and wish him every success in his new role,” Soma said.

Khaire has been with Soma since its inception in 2013, and so was there when the company scooped a landmark – and ultimately eye-catching - deal to have first right of refusal over a plethora of offshore blocks.

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The SFO in 2015 opened a criminal investigation into a trio of entities connected with the UK explorer and others “in relation to allegations of corruption” in Somalia. The probe in part looked at payments from the company to the nascent administration’s Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Resources in 2014, which Soma said were part of a capacity building programme.

The investigation was launched following a report from the UN Somalia & Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG), which Soma accused of fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of the company’s business relationships in Somalia.

As a start-up, Soma signed an agreement with the Somali government in early August 2013 aimed at developing the fractured African nation’s hydrocarbons industry, with an initial pot of $20 million to spend. Under the survey agreement, Soma was given “the right to nominate and obtain exploration and other drilling rights under production sharing agreements for prospective areas”.

The SFO eventually dropped its investigation as it concluded there was “insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction".

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It did, however, reserve some harsh words for some of those under investigation, concluding that "there were reasonable grounds to suspect the commission of offences involving corruption".

Chief executive Richard Anderson said at the time the probe was dropped: "Despite their large caseload, the SFO dedicated considerable resource to fully investigate the SEMG’s allegations against Soma. This has resulted in decision to close the investigation in what we are assured is an unusually short time, ending a very frustrating episode which resulted in a considerable expenditure of time, money and manpower."

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Chairman Michael Howard, a former leader of the UK Conservative Party, added: "We acknowledge that the SFO had no alternative but to investigate the allegations which originated from the SEMG but we are disappointed that the SEMG's position was so obviously partisan and completely out of alignment with the international community which has a clear interest and duty in helping Somalia to rebuild its economy in a fair and transparent manner."