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Lap Dancers, the CIA, Payoffs and BP’s Deepwater Horizon

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Posted on Apr 18, 2014

By Greg Palast

    BP operative Leslie Abrahams with AK-47 in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo by Greg Palast Investigative Fund

“There was CIA involvement through a company called Mega Oil. They were shipping in arms under the cover of oil tools.”

The BP executive was explaining to me how the CIA, MI6 and British Petroleum engineered a coup d’état, overthrowing a nation’s elected president who was “not favorable to BP.” The corporation’s former vice president, Leslie Abrahams, is pictured above, holding an AK-47 in front of BP’s offices in Baku, Azerbaijan. Like most of the other BP executives I spoke with, he proudly added that although he was working for BP, he was also an operative for MI6, British intelligence.

This conversation, which took place in 2010, was far from the weirdest I had in my four-continent investigation of the real story of the Deepwater Horizon.

The BP oil rig blew out on April 20 of that year, four years ago this Sunday.

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Last month, the Obama administration officially OK’d BP’s right to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. A few days after lifting the ban, just to assure the company that all is forgiven, the U.S. Department of the Interior gave BP a new contract to drill in the Gulf of Mexico—right next to where the Deepwater Horizon went down. At the same time, the forgive-and-forget U.S. Justice Department has put the trial of David Rainey, the only BP big shot charged with a felony crime in the disaster, on indefinite hold.

The Deepwater Horizon blowout incinerated 11 men on the rig and poisoned 600 miles of Gulf coastline. What political fairy dust does BP keep in its pocket to receive virtual immunity from the consequences?

To understand what really happened in the Gulf of Mexico, and how BP became a corporate creature beyond the reach of the law, British television network Channel 4 sent me on an investigation through a labyrinthine fun house of bribery, lap dancing, beatings, WikiLeaks, a coup d’état, arrests and oil-state terror.

I found the cause of the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon 7,000 miles from the Gulf in the ancient city of Baku, the Central Asian caravan stop on the Silk Road.

* * *

For the interview with agent Abrahams and the full story of the Deepwater Horizon, see, “Vultures and Vote Rustlers,” the documentary that will be available as a download without charge until April 21 courtesy of the not-for-profit Palast Investigative Fund.

* * *

The literal source of Soviet power until 1991, Baku has been exporting petroleum for 3,000 years. As the Soviet Union shattered into pieces that year, BP set its sights on the city. It is now the capital of the new nation of Azerbaijan, which sits atop the biggest untapped oil field in the world, right beneath the Caspian Sea.

A coup for BP

In 1992, then-BP Chairman Lord Browne flew into Baku as soon as the young state elected its first president, Abulfaz Elchibey. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher joined him via the “Iron Lady,” a plane the corporation outfitted especially for her. At a state dinner, Browne handed Abrahams, a BP vice president at the time, a briefcase and showed him the contents: a check for $30 million. Browne then gave the check to the president of Azerbaijan.

Still, the new president remained “not favorable” to BP’s demand for control of the Caspian oil, so MI6, the CIA and the corporation went into action. The spy agencies armed and empowered former Soviet KGB chief Heydar Aliyev, who in 1993 overthrew Azerbaijan’s elected government. Once he became dictator, Aliyev named himself president for life and within four months signed a no-bid deal to give the reserves to BP.

BP and MI6 man Abrahams was instructed, he told me, to “smooth the way” for the deal by taking Azeri officials to London in Browne’s jet for weekends of lap dancing and other entertainment. By Abrahams’ own estimation, he paid over $3 million in additional cash bribes to make certain BP would have no trouble.

I should note that Abrahams broke no law: Bribery by a British subject was legal then. BP executives did not deny the payoffs when I questioned them directly, and MI6 officers proudly confirmed the coup’s purpose of locking in the offshore deal for BP.

Quick-dry, quick-kill cement

What does this have to do with the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon? 

This: It is now well established that the disaster occurred when the cement used to cap the well failed, allowing explosive methane gas to fill the rig and transform it into a sinking fireball.

But this was not BP’s first cement failure and explosion. Just 17 months earlier, BP’s Caspian Sea Transocean rig had suffered exactly the same fate.

The cause of the two blowouts was identical. In the Caspian as in the Gulf, BP laced its cement with nitrogen gas. The nitrogen bubbles sped up the drying of the mixture, saving BP half a million dollars a day on rig rental charges. But in offshore high-pressure zones, nitrogen-spiked cement can fail. And it did. Twice.


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