Senegal gas deal truth will come out – Sall

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Senegalese President Macky Sall said government would find out the truth after a report alleged his brother Aliou Sall was involved in fraud related to two major offshore gas blocks operated by BP.

In his first comment since the BBC published its report, the president defended his record in developing the nation’s energy industry but stopped short of calling for a formal investigation, which the opposition demand.

“I want the truth to be established and government will do this now without delay,” he said after attending prayers for the Eid-al-Fitr Muslim holiday at Dakar’s main mosque.

In a statement later government rejected the BBC report as one-sided, describing it as “punctuated with serious and false allegations.”

“The Senegalese government reserves the right to follow up on this issue as appropriate,” it said.

The BBC report alleged, in a previously unpublished arrangement, BP agreed to pay Timis Corporation, a firm run by Romanian-Australian tycoon Frank Timis, about $10 billion in royalty payments for its stake in the two blocks.

The BBC said, based on documents it reviewed, a secret payment of $250,000 was made by Timis to a company run by the president’s brother.

The report casts a shadow over Senegal’s energy plans before the first oil and gas starts flowing and despite presidential reassurances to root out corruption.

Aliou Sall denied receiving payment and called the BBC’s report “totally false”.

Timis has not been reachable for comment, but told the BBC in a statement there had been “no wrongdoing whatsoever”.

The blocks are currently operated by BP, which said it “rejects any implication it acted improperly in the acquisition of our interests in Senegal.”

Senegal’s offshore oil and gas reserves have the potential to transform the poor West African country when they start flowing in the next decade, with volumes expected to rival some of the region’s bigger producers.

The blocks, Cayar Offshore Profond and St. Louis Profond, have caused controversy since 2012 when a previously unknown company Petro-Tim was unexpectedly awarded the licence despite having no known track record in the industry. Soon after, the president’s brother was hired by the company.

Protests against the deal erupted in Dakar in 2016 during Sall’s first term.

Responding to the president’s remarks opposition leader Ousmane Sonko said citizens should demonstrate again.

“I call on Senegalese men and women, especially the sacrificed and forgotten youth, to mobilise massively and non-stop in the coming days in protest against all scandals until appropriate measures are taken,” he said in a statement.