MUSCAT, Jan 12 (Reuters) - An Omani government official and two private sector executives were sentenced to jail of up to three years on Sunday after conviction on corruption charges, the first ruling in a case that is shaking up the country's business environment.
More than 20 government officials and private executives from Oman's oil industry and related sectors are on trial on charges of offering or accepting bribes in exchange for contracts, mostly in infrastructure projects.
Corruption is a politically sensitive issue in Oman, which saw sporadic street protests against graft and unemployment in 2011 as political unrest gripped other Arab countries.
The judge at the Court of First Instance in Muscat sentenced Juma Al Hinai, an official in the Finance Ministry who also serves as head of the tenders committee at state-owned Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), to three years in jail and ordered him to pay a fine of 600,000 rials ($1.56 million). He was banned from holding public office for 20 years.
The court also sentenced Mohammed Ali, managing director of Galfar Engineering, to three years in jail and Galfar official Abdullmajeed Nushad to two years in jail. Ali, who had maintained his innocence throughout the trial that began in November, was also ordered to pay 600,000 rials in fines.
Nushad, who had initially denied the charges but changed his plea during the hearings, was ordered to pay 200,000 rials, the judge said. Ali and Nushad, who hold Indian citizenship, are to be deported after they serve their sentences.
A PDO official said: "We have no comment at this point. It is too soon." He suggested that the defendants would appeal the verdict.
Authorities in the Gulf Arab sultanate had confiscated 873,000 rials found in Hinai's home.
The case took shape in November when prosecutors charged Hinai with accepting 200,000 rials from Ali to facilitate Galfar operations and extending one of the contracts awarded by PDO. Nushad was charged with complicity in providing the bribes.
Oman, situated on the narrow strait through which flows 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil, is a significant producer itself, pumping around 950,000 barrels per day of crude. Oil and gas sector revenues provide most government revenues.
The country is spending heavily to develop its energy and industrial infrastructure in an effort to create jobs for its citizens. Last month, international oil giant BP signed 30-year deals to develop an Omani gas project with an estimated investment of $16 billion. ($1 = 0.3850 Omani rials) (Reporting by Fatma Alaraimi; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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