Three former top officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority and a former special adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, named in a corruption scandal in Switzerland, are now to face fresh probe in Nigeria following the conviction of the foreign firm that allegedly gave them more than $2.7 million.
Dredging International Services (Cyprus) Ltd was in early May fined one million Swiss Francs and asked to refund 36 million Swiss Francs illegal profit after it was indicted for allegedly making illicit payments to a former Managing Director of the NPA, Adebayo Sarumi; a former Managing Director of NPA’s Eastern Ports, Felix Ovbude; a former Executive Director of Finance at the NPA, Abba Murtala Mohammed; and Daniel Afam-Obi, a former executive assistant to Sullivan Akachukwu Nwankpo who was ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s special adviser on technical matters.
Investigators believe Mr. Afam-Obi acted on behalf of Mr. Nwankpo.
While Messrs Sarumi, Ovbude and Mohammed allegedly collectively received $2.6 million in kickbacks, Mr. Afam-Obi was said to have been paid $157,000 for unknown reasons.
Another $18 million was passed to companies in which some yet unknown Nigerian officials have interests.
A top official of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission told this reporter Tuesday that the Acting Chairman of the anti-graft agency, Ibrahim Magu, early Tuesday instructed some of his staff to pore through the agency’s records and dig out relevant files on the matter.
“If those who gave the bribe have been convicted, we will have to do something to bring those who allegedly received the bribe to book,” the official said. “We will see what we already have and what more work needs to be done.
“We will also see what help we can get from Swiss authorities on this matter. But I can tell you that we are relaunching our investigation.”
The spokesperson for the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren confirmed his agency was on the case.
“Yes, we are reviewing the matter, we are on it,” Mr. Uwujaren said.
Sources at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had told PREMIUM TIMES the anti-graft agency received a request from Switzerland while investigation was on in that country. That was during the tenure of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration.
“We interrogated the named individuals, did other investigations and then forwarded our findings to the Attorney General’s office for onward passage to the Swiss embassy,” one of the investigators who handled the matter had told PREMIUM TIMES.
“The difficulty we had then was that the companies into which the monies were paid were offshore ones, and they had no bank accounts in Nigeria. However, we sent our report to the Attorney General but we had no idea what he told the Swiss. We also did not hear back from the Swiss since then.”
Switzerland said it sought assistance from Nigeria and that the then Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, replied that there was no case for criminal prosecution.
Mr. Adoke, who is wanted by the EFCC in connection with the Malabu Oil investigation, has been out of Nigeria since the end of his tenure in May 2015, and could not be reached to comment for this story. A source close to him however quoted the former minister as saying everything he did while in office was in compliance with Nigerian laws.
Dredging International Services (Cyprus) Ltd is part of a consortium which formed The Bonny Channel Management Limited that in turn entered into a joint venture arrangement with the NPA to form The Bonny Channel Company saddled with “creating and maintaining a safe navigational passage for all marine users to and in the Eastern Ports of Bonny Island, Onne, Okrika and Port-Harcourt”.
The NPA holds 60 per cent equity in the JVC while The Bonny Channel Management Limited consortium (comprising Dredging International, Vinci, IPEM and Dapesa Limited) has the remaining 40 per cent.
The bribery scheme
Each year, NPA awards the company contracts worth $70million without any open or competitive bidding as required by Nigerian law, and the firm is believed to have so far cornered jobs worth at least N717 billion.
Dredging International is a subsidiary of the Belgian group, Dredging, Environmental and Marine Engineering NV (DEME), which specializes in petroleum infrastructure and dredging, and has a turnover of two billion euros and employs 4,600 people worldwide. The French company VINCI is one of its main shareholders.
In an indictment dated May 1, 2017, the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office (MPC) said between 2006 and 2011, the company wired huge bribes to the companies in which Mr. Sarumi and his colleagues were beneficial owners.
In addition, according to the document issued by Federal Prosecutor Alice de Chambrier, Dredging International, through its agent, transferred more than $18 million to nine offshore companies whose real beneficial owners are yet unclear. The companies are Noble Gate Projects Ltd., Liam Engineering Nigeria Ltd., Nianza Fze, Alfonsor Trading Corporation, Monogate Ltd., FIFC Management And Development Ltd., Reinex Bureau of Change Ltd, Annacro Ltd., and Agro Systems Ltd.
Dredging had through two of its executives – Alexandre Maes (Chief Financial Officer) and Christian Van Meerbeeck (Chief Legal Officer) – entrusted the treasury of its Nigerian project to a Geneva-based asset management company, Driancourt & Cie, and its director, Alain Driancourt. It was this asset management company and its director that executed the complicated foreign bribery scheme on its behalf.
In arranging the illicit scheme, Mr. Driancourt of the asset management firm, documents show, set up three offshore companies: Berndale Trading Ltd, with accounts with Credit Suisse and EFG Bank in Geneva, as well as Bayhill Finance Ltd and Dacklin Trading Ltd, each with an account with EFG Bank. The accounts were regularly funded by Dredging International. The payment orders were given by Alexandre Maes and Christian Van Meerbeck, then executed by Alain Driancourt.
The bribe payments, investigators said, began in 2007 after the NPA refused to pay Dredging International $43 million for dredging work already done. To recover this amount, the company elaborately organized the payment of several million dollars to executives of the NPA and other officials in the hope that that would push them to act.
And for five years, as indicated above, more $20million were wired to companies in which the named Nigerian officials are believed to be beneficial owners as well as to firms whose real beneficial owners are yet to be determined (also listed above).
As required by Swiss laws, the bank Credit Suisse alerted authorities to these suspicious transfers in 2011, and an investigation immediately commenced. The investigation was initially entrusted to Prosecutor Félix Reinmann and then to Olivier Thormann.