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BusinessDay: Nigerian police seek culprits in $6m oil bribe: …bribes went to unnamed officials from… a Nigerian arm of Royal Dutch Shell

10 August 2007

Estelle Shirbon
Reuters

ABUJA — Nigeria’s anticorruption police are working to uncover the recipients of an alleged $6m in bribes from a US oil services executive, who had been indicted in the US, the head of the force said yesterday.

US prosecutors have accused Jason Steph, a former manager at Willbros Group , and others of bribing Nigerian officials between 2003 and 2005 to help the Houston-based firm secure a $387m contract to build a gas pipeline.

Nuhu Ribadu, chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said it was co-operating with US law enforcement agencies on the case.

“You will definitely see the outcome of our own investigations and if it means there will be indictments in Nigeria, then so be it — there will be. It’s very likely,” he said.

The US indictment said that bribes went to unnamed officials from the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum , the government, the ruling People’s Democratic Party and a Nigerian arm of Royal Dutch Shell.

Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer and the eighth-biggest in the world, is one of the most corrupt countries, according to independent watchdog Transparency International.

Ribadu said he was “elated” about the Willbros case and other US probes into companies doing business in Nigeria.

“There are several companies that we know are being investigated by the US government under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which is a very big and welcome development.”

Swiss logistics firm Panalpina said on July 24 it would start an internal inquiry after the US justice department requested documents from it in connection with a probe into suspected bribery of Nigerian customs officials.

The Wall Street Journal reported 11 oil and oil services firms had received similar requests.

“There are a couple of companies that we are investigating as well, relating to investigations taking place outside Nigeria of companies that are doing business in Nigeria. It’s very likely that Panalpina will be one of them,” said Ribadu.

The commission, created in 2003, has prosecuted some senior politicians for corruption and secured a handful of convictions, causing a huge stir in a country where bribery and embezzlement had become the norm in some business and political circles.

Former p resident Olusegun Obasanjo was widely accused of using the commission to target his opponents, while his friends remained untouchable. Ribadu always denied this was the case.

Since Obasanjo was succeeded by President Umaru Yar’Adua on May 29, the commission has secured the conviction of one former state governor and has started prosecuting five others, who lost their immunity when their terms of office ended on the same date. Ribadu described Yar’Adua as a president who would let the body go after whoever it chose, as long as it obeyed the law.

“He’s not in any way involved. He’s not showing any interest in what we’re doing as long as we’re doing what is right.”

A British court on August 2 froze assets worth £17m belonging to James Ibori, a former state governor and a major financier of Yar’Adua’s electoral campaign.

Ribadu said the body’s own probe into Ibori would continue and the former governor’s ties to Yar’Adua were no obstacle.

http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/world.aspx?ID=BD4A536315

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