An anti-corruption group says Exxon Mobil bought rights to drill in an area off the coast of West Africa despite its concerns about possible corruption.
Global Witness said Thursday that Exxon knew that the oil field, called Block 13, had been previously awarded to another company through bribery.
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The group said in a 40-page report that Exxon paid $120 million in 2013 for rights to explore for oil in the block by using a Canadian company as a middleman. Global Witness said the sale was accompanied by more than $200,000 in unusual payments from Liberia's oil agency to six government officials who approved the deal.
Exxon said that all payments went to verified Liberian government accounts. A spokesman said the company is confident that the deal complied with Liberian and international anti-corruption laws.
Global Witness is a London-based group that campaigns against corruption that often involves exploitation of natural resources in developing countries.
Jonathan Gant, an investigator for Global Witness, said the group received thousands of documents from sources in Liberia who were unhappy about the deal.
A document purporting to be a 2011 Exxon Mobil PowerPoint presentation to Liberian officials in London said the company wanted to structure its acquisition of Block 13 rights in a certain way "due to ExxonMobil concern over issues regarding US anti-corruption laws".
Exxon thought some owners of the Block 13 rights, a company called Peppercoast, may have been Liberian government officials at the time of winning the rights, and that Liberia's oil agency may have paid off legislators, according to the presentation.
Irving, Texas-based Exxon structured the deal as two contracts that resulted in Exxon being the majority owner of Block 13 rights while Canadian Overseas Petroleum got a minority stake.
Exxon spokesman Scott Silvestri said the terms of the deal were ratified by Liberia's government. "The process was transparent and the terms of the contract are publicly available," he said.
Silvestri said all money was paid to verified government accounts in ways approved by the Liberian legislature and complied with local and international law. He said Exxon is committed to complying with the U.S. anti-bribery law, called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and the laws of countries where it does business.