A senior executive and shareholder of a company chaired by former Conservative party leader Michael Howard is being investigated by the United Nations for “possible links” to a violent Islamist terror group in Somalia, BuzzFeed News can reveal.
A leaked memo, sent last month by a UN watchdog to diplomats in the UK and Norway, reveals that the executive director for Africa at Soma Oil and Gas is under investigation for possible ties to extremist groups in East Africa, including al-Shabaab, which in recent weeks has claimed responsibility for a series of deadly terrorist attacks in Somalia.
Soma is a London-based company chaired by Howard that was set up in 2013 to explore for offshore oil in Somalia. The Africa director, Hassan Khaire, and Howard are both shareholders in Soma and sit together on the boards of three of its group companies in the UK, according to records filed at Companies House.
A spokesperson for Soma told BuzzFeed News Khaire had “no link or affiliation to any known terrorist organisation or member of a terrorist organisation”.
The probe is part of the UN monitoring group’s wider investigation into Soma’s activities in Somalia. The private company, which has ties to Conservative party donors, is also under criminal investigation in the UK by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in connection with corruption allegations in Somalia.
Disclosure of the UN investigation is likely to be embarrassing for the Foreign Office as its officials held meetings with Soma executives throughout 2013 while the company was set up, including a “private briefing” for Howard. In 2014, Howard told defence secretary Michael Fallon, then a business minister, that he accepted the Soma job “with the encouragement” of the Foreign Office.