The Man Who Helps Oil-Rich Nations Write Their Laws, Then Profits From Them

James Jay Park

OVER the past three years Recon­Africa, has been trying to exploit what it calls “the last major onshore oil discovery on earth”.

The company has hyped that the licence it holds in Namibia could contain a whopping 120 billion barrels of oil.

The problem is not only that 120 billion barrels of new oil would be catastrophic for the goal of ending new oil projects in the face of a warming world, but also that the project is hanging like a sword of Damocles over the watershed of the Okavango Delta, one of the planet’s most beloved world heritage sites and a key biodiversity area.

A three-year investigation by writers Jeffrey Barbee and Laurel Neme published in National Geographic unearthed many serious problems with ReconAfrica’s oil and gas drilling in the Okavango Delta watershed.

Barbee is also an author of this investigation.

So far ReconAfrica has been unable to find commercial quantities of oil, leading to accusations that this is a pump-and-dump stock scheme.

At the centre of the ReconAfrica scheme is one particular character, who, over the course of decades, has jetted around the world advising governments and businesses in oil-rich nations in his own quest to profit off petrochemical riches.


Tucked away in London’s Mayfair district are the offices of Park Energy Law, one of the world’s most influential energy law firms.

It is from there that the company’s managing partner, James Jay Park, advises private oil and gas companies, and, according to his website, “state-owned energy companies/governments on developing their petroleum regimes” in the Middle East and Africa.

According to his own website, Park claims he has “assisted governments and state oil companies in the design or amendment of petroleum regimes in 20 countries, whose resources comprise 49% of world oil reserves and 33% of world gas reserves”.

In an interview in 2018 with The Energy Year, Park stated that his law firm did not “act within a country for both the government and investors.”

But Park’s own website has stated that he does indeed work with “both investors and states”.

Our investigation has uncovered a clear pattern of Park advising governments and then setting up or advising companies in the same country, thereby benefiting directly from the oil regulations he helped draft.

Our team has found many instances where Park helped governments create laws while advising companies in which he had an interest on how to benefit from those same laws.

Some of these scandals have been investigated by the United Nations or government agencies like the Serious Fraud Office in the United Kingdom, and others have resulted in convictions for some of Park’s erstwhile clients.

In three countries companies associated with Park have also reportedly been investigated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.


In the past three years his actions have again come under the spotlight in Namibia.

The lawyer was instrumental in setting up the Canadian oil exploration company ReconAfrica, but again it appears he has also been advising the government on its oil laws.

He has been with ReconAfrica since its inception and has been at various times its chief executive, chair, a director, a major shareholder and now its legal adviser.

According to Namibian lawyer Uno Katjipuka, Park is said to be engaged with the Namibian government on its new oil and gas legislation.

That oil legislation is needed, according to Katjipuka, to govern the two massive new offshore oil and gas discoveries by TotalEnergies and Shell, as well as any onshore discoveries if companies like ReconAfrica do find any recoverable oil.

When he stepped down from the board in 2022, ReconAfrica announced: “Mr Park will continue to take the leading role in advising ReconAfrica on all oil and gas legal matters through Park Energy Law, where he is managing partner.”

As of February 2024 Park was the company’s second-largest shareholder, with over three million shares.

In 2020, ReconAfrica launched an aggressive online marketing campaign, and investors piled in with cash, hoping to strike it rich in Park’s “biggest oil find of the decade.”

By July 2021, the company was worth nearly US$1 billion.

But today there is no evidence of commercial quantities of oil in Namibia’s Okavango watershed, despite the inflationary claims put forward for years by Park and the rest of ReconAfrica’s leadership.

However, the company’s new chief executive, Brian Reinsborough, is confident they will find oil.


ReconAfrica is now facing a class-action lawsuit in New York that alleges that it had concealed crucial information about the data on its first two oil and gas test wells using deceptive stock promotion, while senior executives sold shares when the stock price was artificially high.

On 23 April 2023, a United States federal court denied ReconAfrica’s motion to dismiss the United States shareholder class-action claims, and the company was ordered to file an answer to the complaint that it previously misled investors.

Then, on 28 February this year a new ReconAfrica press release claimed the company had come to a settlement agreement with the disgruntled investors who filed the complaint, but that “the settlement will not be final unless both courts grant final approval”.

The company’s press release went on to say that any settlement will be covered by their insurance and that “none of the defendants are admitting any liability, wrongdoing, or fault as part of the settlement”.

Why would Park put so much of himself into what appears to be a pump-and-dump scheme?

One possible answer to Park’s ReconAfrica oil play may be that he believed it to be true, and now that it hasn’t panned out, he exited the board.

He remains the company’s second-largest shareholder.

But without the “working petroleum system” that drove the company’s stock value to more than US$10 a share, his investment is worth significantly less.

Today it trades for under US$1.

Addressing the crowd at his panel discussion, called ‘Africa’s Exploration Champions’, Park declared that “as a petroleum lawyer what I often see in many jurisdictions is that you have a petroleum regulator. But that is only part of what a government does to regulate activities”.

He went on to note that there was also “red tape” for oil explorers, like government departments in charge of “the environment, forestry, roads and water and so on”.

But Park said he has a solution to these problems: “Finding a way to bring that together, and have kind of a single window regulation, one stop shopping if you will, this can really help drive exploration and development activity.”

Essentially, he said with a huge smile, just rewrite a master petroleum law to make it easier, as he put it, to “drill, baby, drill”.

  • To read the whole investigation, visit New Lines.
  • This investigation was co-produced with a research grant from, a foundation funding science and environmental reporting.

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