by Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis, Declassified UK, 22 February 2023
Martin Griffiths, now the UN’s humanitarian chief, co-founded his personal consultancy with the vice-president of an energy firm which has worked on multi-million pound projects in the states leading the bombing campaign in Yemen.
- Griffiths co-founded personal consultancy with Andrew Loken, vice-president of ICARE
- Loken started working for ICARE the same month he co-founded mediation firm with Griffiths and the two companies had same headquarters
- ICARE has had major commercial interests in Saudi Arabia and UAE energy sectors, although it says it does not currently work in either country
- Saudi Arabia and UAE have led the devastating air war in Yemen, where Griffiths mediated for the UN from 2018-21
The former UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, has close links to the vice-president of a private energy group which has had significant financial interests in the oil sectors of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Declassified can reveal.
Griffiths’s private consultancy – Mediation Group International (MGI) – which promoted conflict resolution, was co-founded in 2011 with Andrew Loken who was a partner and shareholder in the company.
Declassified understands MGI no longer exists and its website appears to have been taken down in mid-2019.
Loken has been a senior official at ICARE Group, an energy services firm, since co-founding the company in 2011.
MGI and ICARE shared the same headquarters at its registered address of 5 Rue Faucigny in Fribourg, a town in western Switzerland.
Asked if there was a relationship between MGI and ICARE, Loken told Declassified “there is no such relationship or link”. Asked if ICARE had discussed its work with Griffiths, Loken added that “no such discussions have taken place”.
The Saudi and UAE regimes are belligerents in the Yemen conflict, together leading the devastating air war in the country which has killed thousands of people since it began in 2015. Over 25,000 bombing missions have been flown by the UK-backed coalition, mainly by Saudi warplanes. In his position as UN envoy, Griffiths had access to high-level officials in both regimes.
There is no suggestion that this access has been used for commercial purposes. However, the new information raises further questions about the undermining of the appearance of impartiality crucial to the role of the UN special envoy.
Griffiths held the Yemen role from 2018 until August 2021. He is now the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and this week took part in the Riyadh Humanitarian Forum in Saudi Arabia.
Declassified has revealed that Inter Mediate, a company Griffiths co-founded in 2011 and which he still advises, “works closely” with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, better known as MI6), which has been active in the Yemen war.
Similar to Inter Mediate, MGI described its mission as “to mediate a resolution to conflicts and disputes that arise between local communities, administrations, central governments and multinational companies”. It added that its “value lies in its exceptional professional mediation experience, its impartiality and its ability to operate in all environments”.
Declassified also recently revealed that the UK loaned a military officer to Griffiths while he was UN envoy for Yemen.
Oil and gas
Declassified has found MGI’s former website, which appears to have been online from 2017-19, and includes information on its influential partners and associates.
The last page impression that could be accessed dates from June 2019. Full details of the company’s clients are not available.
Andrew Loken was one of four shareholders in MGI and co-founded the firm with Griffiths in November 2011. In the same month, Loken became general manager at ICARE Group, which he co-founded in the same year, and where he now serves as executive vice-president.
ICARE, which at one point had 650 staff working around the world, has had a number of clients in the Middle East. These include the Saudi Electric Company (SEC), which is majority owned by the Saudi regime and has a monopoly on the generation and distribution of electric power in the country.
ICARE’s project with the SEC—which is also partly owned by Aramco, the Saudi national oil company—has been valued at $950m.
The company’s other clients have included Saudi Arabia’s largest mining company, Ma’aden, with which it has worked on the construction of the world’s “largest fully integrated fertiliser production operation”.
Another ICARE client has been Yanbu Aramco Sinopec Refining—majority owned by Aramco—which operates a 400,000 barrel per day oil refinery next to the Red Sea. ICARE has also provided services to US oil corporation Chevron’s operations in Saudi Arabia.
ICARE has also had contracts with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company—the state-owned oil corporation of the UAE—and the Lamprell Group, a UAE oil rig construction business listed on the London Stock Exchange.
ICARE’s “major clients” have also included oil giants Shell, ExxonMobil, Total, Repsol, BP, Petrobras, and ConocoPhillips. It has expanded rapidly in recent years, acquiring “a number of blue-chip engineering companies”, and now boasts a dozen divisions.
‘Institute of Peace’
While working for ICARE, Loken was in September 2017 appointed “senior advisor” at the European Institute of Peace when Griffiths was executive director of the organisation. Griffiths left the institute, a Brussels-based group which promotes conflict resolution, when he was appointed UN envoy to Yemen in February 2018 following a campaign by the UK government.
The institute notes that Loken has been active in Venezuela for over 10 years, working on major infrastructure improvement projects and corporate mediation work in the country. His work at the institute has “focused on opening up communication channels between members of the government of Venezuela and the EU”.
One of ICARE’s “major clients” has been PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company.
Max Abitbol,chief executive and president of ICARE Energy since January 2011, told Declassified: “I have never met nor spoken to Mr Griffiths and there is no connection between him and me or the ICARE group of companies of which I am President.” He added: “ICARE is not working on any projects in Saudi Arabia or the UAE.”
In the Yemen war, the country’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have targeted Saudi oil infrastructure. In November 2020, rebels claimed to have hit oil facilities in the western city of Jeddah in a rocket attack.
In September 2019, two Aramco installations in the oil-processing hub of Abqaiq, which is one of the world’s largest processing plants, were damaged by a drone attack claimed by the Houthis.
Another of MGI’s shareholders was Andrew Marshall, a Canadian former high-level UN official, who was appointed “senior advisor” to Griffiths based in Yemen in October 2019. Marshall co-founded the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue with Griffiths in 1999, and was a senior adviser to Inter-Mediate from its founding in 2011 until 2014.
Marshall has previously run mediation programmes for the World Bank in central Africa to achieve “solutions to problems that resulted from ExxonMobil oil and pipeline operations”.
British lawyer Mark Muller was also a shareholder. An adviser to the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, Muller has previously acted as a senior advisor to both the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and Inter Mediate.
MGI also had a roster of “associates” including retired US general Anthony Zinni, who advises the corporate intelligence firm Arcanum Global Intelligence and was previously US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s envoy in the Gulf. Another “associate” was Dr John Mortimer, a geoscientist with a 23 year career at the world’s largest mining company, BHP Billiton.
Martin Griffiths did not respond to Declassified’’s request for comment.