Modern technology makes it increasingly easy to make clandestine recordings of business conversations. It is common in the UK for boardrooms to be swept for bugs before each meeting.

I am old-fashioned enough to think it unacceptable to record business conversations without telling all involved that you are doing so.

In the Middle East and the countries of the former Soviet Union, it is a different story. Here you should assume that every room is bugged.

Indoors we use code names to disguise what we are talking about. For really critical discussions we go outside for a walk.

Some large western businesses are surprisingly naïve about this. We were doing a deal involving regular visits to the offices of a major oil company in the Middle East. They were our co-venture partners in the negotiation of an opportunity with the national oil company.

Our information is that our partner’s office manager is married to a Colonel in the local security services. We assume that the offices are bugged, and act accordingly.  

Our partners vent their irritation by saying that the lead negotiator for the national oil company is an idiot. We say that he is no idiot. He is a capable and patriotic man doing his best for his country in a difficult negotiation. This is met with howls of derision.

When negotiations continued the next day, our partners are met with scowls and a cold shoulder, while we are greeted like old friends.

Chris Thorpe

Chris Thorpe is a respected independent lawyer in the upstream oil and gas industry, and an established lecturer and author. Chris has a LLB in law from Magdalene College, Cambridge and trained as a barrister in London. He worked for eight years' as an in-house lawyer for BP and Marathon. Since 1991, Chris has run his own upstream legal practice, CPTL, which has acted for many upstream clients. He has extensive experience of international upstream transactions, principally in the North Sea, the FSU, Africa and the Middle East. Chris has spoken at many UK and International Conferences and Seminars, both public and in-house. His most popular current lecture is Fundamental of Upstream Petroleum Agreements, a two-day course with accompanying book.