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UpstreamOnline: Anti-corruption campaign: President Umaru Yar’Adua

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Nigeria to launch probe into graft claims

By Upstream staff

Nigeria will investigate senior government officials implicated by Jason Steph, a former Wilbros executive who has pleaded guilty to bribery, Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa said today.

Steph pleaded guilty to paying $6 million in bribes in 2003 to an unnamed senior member of the executive branch of the Nigerian government, the ruling People’s Democratic Party and officials of the state oil company.

Steph also pleaded guilty to paying $1.8 million in bribes to Nigerian government officials in 2005 and agreed to co-operate with the US Justice Department investigation.

“The president approved that I go to Houston and get to the root of the matter,” Aondoakaa told Reuters.

“Though Jason Steph has admitted guilt, it does not automatically make the Nigerians alleged to have received the bribes guilty. We are going to launch an investigation here immediately,” he added.

The bribes won Willbros and associates a $387 million contract to build the Eastern Gas Gathering System pipeline for Shell .

The Willbros case is the latest in a string of bribery allegations involving foreign companies and Nigerian officials, which campaigners say point to endemic corruption in Africa’s largest energy industry.

No Nigerian official has been prosecuted as a result of the cases. Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua, who took over from former President Olusegun Obasanjo in May, has promised zero tolerance for corruption in one of the world’s most tainted countries.

Obasanjo, who ran Nigeria for eight years, also waged a high-profile campaign against graft, but his image was marred by accusations of looting by his own vice president, who joined the opposition.

Eight Swiss and US companies have co-operated with the US Justice Department this year in investigations into bribery in Nigeria.

In 2005, US oil services company Halliburton said “improper payments” to Nigerian officials may have been made in order to win a multi-billion dollar contract to build a liquefied natural gas plant in the 1990s.

Halliburton said members of the TSKJ consortium, which also includes France’s Technip, Italian Snamprogetti and Japan’s JGC Corporation, considered bribing Nigerian officials to land the contract.

In 2004, Nigeria opened an investigation into allegations that the consortium paid $180 million in bribes for the deal, but its findings have never been made public.

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07 November 2007 10:41 GMT  | last updated: 07 November 2007 10:42 GMT

http://www.upstreamonline.com/live/article143706.ece

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