Friday, October 30, 2020

British Virgin Islands firm paid $390,000 bribe to loot $9.6 Billion from Nigeria

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A British Virgin Islands-based firm allegedly paid more than US$390,000 in bribes to land a natural gas processing plant construction contract in 2009, Nigeria’s attorney general said in a statement obtained by OCCRP and its Nigerian member center, the Premium Times.

In 2012, Process and Industrial Developments (P&ID), an engineering and project management company, told a UK arbitration judge they invested $40 million in the plant’s construction but never broke ground because the Nigerian government failed to build promised infrastructure.

Last year, the British court authorized P&ID to seize more than $9.6 billion of Nigeria’s foreign assets — more than the West African country’s annual health and education budgets combined.

The amount, one of the biggest UK arbitration awards ever, was based on the loss of two decades of presumed profits plus $1.2 million per day in interest since the project went bust.

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The award was stayed last November after Nigeria appealed, alleging that P&ID was unqualified for the work and won the contract through bribery. P&ID says Nigeria invented the bribery allegations to distract from its own mismanagement.

On January 22, Nigeria’s Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, submitted what he termed a “witness statement” to the Business and Property Courts of England and the Wales Commercial Court, summarizing the case as he sees it.

In the unsworn document, Malami for the first time lays out exactly how Nigeria believes the bribery scheme worked, and how the alleged recipients were paid through shell companies and in large sums of cash.

Malami alleges that P&ID indirectly paid more than $300,000 to a company connected to Taofiq Tijani, the chairman of a government technical committee that reviewed the contract. P&ID also gave Tijani $94,000, much of it in cash, Malami told the court.

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Tijani initially pleaded not guilty to charges related to bribery and other crimes, but eventually confessed to the scheme after Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) started probing the large sums he received. He said P&ID executives Michael Quinn and Neil Hitchcock dropped a duffel bag packed with $50,000 into the trunk of his car after the trio dined at a Chinese restaurant in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, in April 2009.

In addition to the bag of cash, P&ID “promised that they will further take care of me better at a later date,” Tijani allegedly told investigators.

Tijani also told investigators that Hitchcock gave him another $44,000 to “support” his children’s weddings, with some of the money coming through a company controlled by Michael Quinn’s son.

P&ID made several payments to Lurgi Consults, a Nigerian company controlled by Quinn’s son, Adam, and his associate, James Nolan. Adam Quinn and Nolan also own and manage a Nigerian subsidiary of P&ID.

Lurgi Consults then passed the money on to Conserve Oil, a company that Tijani controlled with his wife.

Nolan and Adam Quinn were charged last October with money laundering and tax evasion in connection with the alleged bribery case.

While he was heading the committee overseeing the gas plant contract, Tijani was also a senior special assistant to Minister of Petroleum Rilwanu Lukman. Tijani told investigators that Lukman, who died in 2014, instructed him to contract with P&ID even though it was a sole-purpose company that had no track record in the oil and gas sector.

Lukman also ordered him to “deliberately overlook” P&ID’s shortcomings and push the deal through, Tijani said in an EFCC affidavit cited by Malami.

Nigeria’s anti-corruption commission determined that Lukman broke the law by signing the P&ID contract. It found that he lacked authority to approve the deal and did no due diligence on the company. The company lacked legally required approvals from the Bureau of Public Procurement and National Petroleum Investment Management Services and didn’t register the deal with the National Office for Technology and Promotion.

Though Lukman was the Minister of Petroleum, Minister of State Odein Ajumogobia was responsible for all gas deals. He confirmed he was not consulted and had no knowledge of the deal.

Grace Taiga, a former Petroleum Ministry lawyer who oversaw a contract review committee, has also been charged with accepting bribes from P&ID-linked companies between 2015 and 2019, to which she pleaded not guilty.

Taiga was scheduled to retire in September 2010, but she inexplicably remained in her position for another 16 months as the P&ID contract was being finalized, Malami said in his statement.

Blame game

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Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, has flatly rejected the British court ruling. In a 2019 speech to the United Nations, he slammed P&ID as a “scam… attempting to cheat Nigeria out of billions of dollars.”

P&ID dismisses bribe allegations as a ploy.

“The Nigerian government knows there was no fraud and the allegations are merely political theater designed to deflect attention from its own shortcomings,” the company told Reuters last September.

The company challenged the assertion that it was unqualified and lacked petroleum industry experience. It notes that before they founded P&ID, Cahill and Quinn had more than 30 years’ experience with engineering projects in Nigeria. Those projects included port infrastructure upgrades in Lagos and Calabar and a large-scale butane project that included construction of a gas pressure vessel manufacturing facility.

Years after the contract was awarded P&ID was acquired by its current owners, Lismore Capital Limited, a private financial management firm incorporated in the Cayman Islands, and VR Advisory Services Limited, a hedge fund with principal offices in the United Kingdom.

Ajumogobia could not be reached for further comment when contacted by the Premium Times and Malami’s spokesperson did not respond by the time of publication.

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