Libya’s state-owned oil company, the National Oil Corporation (NOC), had established last month a new program office, but multiple foreign press reports claim that one of the staff running the office is embroiled in a major fraud case in Kazakhstan.
Peter Sztyk, a Canadian lawyer and entrepreneur who also goes by the name “Petro”, has joined a group of foreign consultants who will manage the Office of Strategic Programs, which the NOC inaugurated in February 15 during a meeting with local oil industry executives in Benghazi.
Who is Peter Sztyk?
The Canadian lawyer graduated in 1993 from Concordia University with bachelor in political science. In 1996, he earned a Bachelor of Laws from Université de Montréal before getting admitted to the Bar of Quebec in 1998 and later to the New York Bar in 2004. He speaks French, English, Ukrainian and Russian. According to Bloomberg, he became the CEO of New World Oil & Gas company in 2014.
Since 2020, he has been working with Canadian legal firm Delegatus, which states that his past experience prior to joining the firm include “the restructuring of the investment holding structure of an industrial holdings group with significant assets in Kazakhstan”.
Delegatus also says that he “acted as lead counsel and coordinating attorney for counsels from applicable jurisdictions including Kazakhstan, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg.”
Connection to a Major Fraud Scheme
The self-described “transactional lawyer” and his American wife Botagoz Jardemalie are allegedly tied to the embezzlement of a Kazakhstani bank known as BTA Bank, which has been described as one of the world’s biggest financial frauds totaling US$5 billion, according to British newspaper The Guardian.
The bank’s former chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov perpetrated the fraud. The Kazakh government discovered the scheme in 2009, when it nationalized the bank. He was accused of “fraud on an epic scale” by using a web of shell companies and associates to siphon billions of dollars before fleeing to the UK.
After BTA Bank’s new management successfully applied for an injunction to freeze his assets in the UK, the presiding judge, Nigel Teare, ruled in 2013 that the fugitive oligarch had defrauded BTA Bank, saying that the evidence showed he had participated in a “dishonest scheme” to “misappropriate monies,” according to Reuters.
Incidentally, when Ablyazov became the sole owner of BTA Bank in 2005, Sztyk’s wife Botagoz Jardemalie was hired as managing director. She then went on to become a member of BTA Bank’s management board in October 2008, according to Open Source Investigations.
In January of 2020, American news website BuzzFeed obtained documents which link 25 of Ablyazov’s shell companies to Jardemalie. According to BuzzFeed, she fled Kazakhstan around the same time as he did and later moved to Belgium.
One of the companies used to conceal and move Ablyazov’s funds is controlled by Dubai-based British accountant named Eesh Aggarwal, as per BuzzFeed’s report. Aggarwal is described in a court declaration as “a financial advisor loyal to Ablyazov” and BuzzFeed’s documents shows direct link between Aggarwal and Sztyk.
Separate evidence reviewed by BuzzFeed shows that in summer 2013 an entity controlled by Aggarwal called Beron agreed to transfer $2 million to a company controlled by a Russian lawyer named Georgy Gomshiashvili. Beron is one of the companies Aggarwal is alleged to have used to administer the $500 million.
One of the documents seen by BuzzFeed shows that in August 2013 Gomshiashvili was introduced to Aggarwal by Sztyk. According to BuzzFeed, the same cache of documents also suggests that funds from Beron made their way to a company owned by Jardemalie.
On 4 May 2013, Kazakhstani authorities issued an arrest warrant on against Jardemalie’s, accusing her of “misappropriation or embezzlement of entrusted property” in relation to the positions she held at BTA Bank, according to Open Source Investigations. However, there are no public reports of whether or not Sztyk himself is the subject of any legally punitive procedures in Kazakhstan or anywhere else.
New Role in Libya
Established as part of a strategic plan for developing the country’s oil and gas sector, the Office of Strategic Programs will oversee the implementation of the plan using “modern methods and capabilities,” according to NOC’s chairman Farhat Bengdara.
During the inauguration ceremony in Benghazi last month, Sztyk was pictured among the panel of foreign consultants which are tasked with managing the office.
It is unclear how Sztyk, with his publicly questionable history, ended up on the final list of foreign consultants authorized by NOC to manage the Office of Strategic Programs. The NOC never disclosed whether there was a selection criteria or any form of vetting for the foreign consultants.
Until today, the NOC still hasn’t even disclosed how exactly would Sztyk, and the rest of the foreign consultants, manage the Office of Strategic Programs.
As Libya’s main source of economic welfare, the country’s oil industry has been the subject of political strife and forced blockade by the country’s warring parties who are competing to control oil for leverage.
With an allegedly corrupt consultant in charge, it seems now that the future of the NOC’s Office of Strategic Programs, and ultimately the future of Libya’s oil sector, are facing new threat from within.