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Shell, Eni preempt any U.S. probe over Nigeria with filings

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Business, Economy, Europe, Leaders, Oil, US

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil giants Royal Dutch Shell and Eni have voluntarily filed to U.S. authorities internal probes into how they acquired a giant field in Nigeria as the companies seek to fight corruption allegations in Europe and Africa.

The filings, to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), do not mean U.S. authorities are investigating Shell or Eni.  The move shows the companies are trying to preempt questions from the United States as they face one of the oil industry’s biggest-ever graft trials in Italy, to begin in May in Milan, a pending trial in Nigeria and an investigation in the Netherlands.

The case revolves around the purchase of a huge block off oil-rich Nigeria, known as OPL 245, which holds an estimated 9 billion barrels in reserves.

Italian prosecutors allege that bribes were paid in an effort to secure rights to the block in 2011. A number of top executives from both companies – including Eni Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi and former Shell Foundation Chairman Malcolm Brinded – will face trial.

Under Italian law a company can be held responsible if it is deemed to have failed to prevent, or attempt to prevent, a crime by an employee that benefited the company.

Both companies’ shares are traded on U.S. stock exchanges, putting their foreign dealings in the scope of U.S. authorities.

Shell and Eni, on behalf of subsidiaries, in 2010 entered deferred prosecution agreements with the DOJ over separate Nigerian corruption allegations.

Those pacts dismissed charges after a certain period in exchange for fines and an agreement to fulfil a number of requirements. They concluded in 2013 and 2012, respectively.

“A company’s disclosure of alleged foreign corruption to both the SEC and the DOJ in the U.S. typically means the company believed U.S. authorities needed to be made aware of this, and both agencies have the authority to prosecute under the (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA),” said Pablo Quiñones, executive director of the New York University School of Law program on corporate compliance and enforcement.

Quiñones previously worked as chief of strategy, policy and training at the DOJ’s criminal fraud section, a role that included helping to develop FCPA enforcement policy.

The SEC and the DOJ declined to comment on the company disclosures or whether they were looking into any allegations surrounding the block.

Eni noted its disclosure in an SEC filing, in which it said “no evidence of wrongdoing on Eni side were detected”. Shell has said publicly that it submitted the investigation to U.S. authorities and to Britain’s Serious Fraud Office.

Shell and Eni deny any wrongdoing. They say their payments for the block, a total of $1.3 billion, were transparent, legal and went directly into an escrow account controlled by the Nigerian government.

The companies and legal experts say the trial will last more than a year, with potential appeals stretching several years beyond that.

“The risk for companies is of a prolonged period of exposure to open court allegations from a state prosecutor of impropriety,” Anthony Goldman of Nigeria-focused PM Consulting said. “That will be painful and damaging.”

The Milan prosecutor charges that roughly $1 billion of the payments were funnelled to a Nigerian company called Malabu Oil and Gas, which had a disputed claim on the block, and former oil minister Dan Etete, who British and U.S. courts have said controlled Malabu. Reuters has been unable to reach Etete or Malabu for comment.

Shell has since said it knew some of the money would go to Malabu to settle its claim, though its own due diligence could not confirm who controlled the company. Eni said it never dealt with Etete or knew he controlled the company, but that the government promised to settle all other claims on the block as part of their deal.

“If the evidence ultimately proves that improper payments were made by Malabu or others to then current government officials in exchange for improper conduct relating to the 2011 settlement of the long standing legal disputes, it is Shell’s position that none of those payments were made with its knowledge, authorisation or on its behalf,” Shell said in a statement.

 

CONTROL AT RISK

The proceedings have also brought together investigators in several countries, with authorities in Nigeria and the Netherlands sending information to Milan.

A Dutch anti-fraud team in 2016 raided Shell offices as part of the investigation, and a Dutch law firm has asked prosecutors to consider launching a criminal case in the Netherlands.

“I’m not aware of many cases where this many jurisdictions have been at work for so long helping each other out. The amount of cooperation is very unusual,” said Aaron Sayne of the Natural Resource Governance Institute, a non-profit group that advises countries on how to manage oil, gas and mineral resources.

A case by Nigeria’s financial watchdog, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, against defendants including the former attorney general, ex-ministers of justice and oil and various senior managers, current and former, from Shell and Eni, will continue in June.

There has also been at least one effort to take away the asset. Experts say it is worth billions, and Shell has spent millions developing it. Eni intends to make a final investment decision this year on developing the block and said in corporate filings that the asset has a book value of 1.2 billion euros ($1.5 billion).

The Italian court does not have the ability to rescind rights to the block, and Nigerian oil minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu has said the companies should continue to develop it.

But in a lawsuit filed by the Nigerian government against JPMorgan in London for the U.S. bank’s role in transferring money from the deal, it called the agreement that facilitated Shell and Eni’s purchase “unlawful and void”.

A JPMorgan spokeswoman previously said the firm “considers the allegations made in the claim to be unsubstantiated and without merit”.

Additionally, a Nigerian court last year briefly ordered the seizure of the block.

That decision was later overturned, and Shell and Eni say they are not worried about losing the asset. But the ruling and the language in the government’s suit against JPMorgan underscore the risk.

“It’s a nice, stable asset that could produce a lot of oil for a long time,” Sayne said.

($1 = 0.8127 euros)

 

(Reporting by Libby George; Additional reporting by Stephen Jewkes and Emilio Parodi in Milan and Ron Bousso in London; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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South Africa watchdog to oppose Zuma bid to set aside influence-peddling report

Comments (0) Latest Updates from Reuters

PRETORIA (Reuters) – South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog will oppose a bid by President Jacob Zuma to have a report on claims of influence-peddling by him and his government set aside, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said on Monday.

Thuli Madonsela, Mkhwebane’s predecessor as Protector, released the report in November. It called for a judicial inquiry into allegations that Zuma, some cabinet members and some state companies acted improperly, but stopped short of asserting that crimes had been committed.

In December Zuma, who has denied wrongdoing and faced down calls for his resignation over a series of scandals that have plagued his administration, asked the High Court to set the report aside.

In February, Mkhwebane said she was seeking legal advice on how to proceed on the issue.

On Monday she told a news conference her office would oppose Zuma’s application to have the report set aside.

($1 = 12.7941 rand)

 

(Reporting by Dinky Mkhize; Editing by James Macharia and John Stonestreet)

 

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Corruption in South Africa stunting reforms: IMF

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Corruption in South Africa is hampering reforms needed to boost economic growth and greater transparency is needed at state-owned companies, a senior International Monetary Fund (IMF) official said on Tuesday.

IMF First Deputy Managing Director David Lipton said that cutting taxes and increasing government spending would not solve the problem of sluggish growth in Africa’s most sophisticated economy.

The IMF recently cut its growth forecast to only 0.1 percent for 2016 versus a previous estimate of 0.6 in May, citing the impact of severe drought and ineffective fiscal policy.

President Jacob Zuma’s unexplained decision to change finance ministers twice in four days in December and a series of political upheavals that followed had also hurt the economy’s prospects, Lipton said.

“The leadership changes at the National Treasury last December and other political developments have had an adverse impact,” he told a public lecture in Johannesburg.

“They have heightened concerns about governance, deepened political uncertainty and shaken investor confidence.”

Lipton also alluded to investors’ lack of faith in the management of South Africa’s 300-odd state-owned enterprises, many of which are over-staffed and under-productive.

A team commissioned by Zuma to review the firms recommended that some should be sold but nothing has happened.

“Support for money-losing companies is a growing drain on government coffers,” Lipton said.

As a solution, he suggested South Africa centralise the formulation of fiscal policy, reduce labour regulation uncertainty and root out public sector corruption.

 

(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Ed Cropley)

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Muhammadu Buhari rebukes Cameron for corruption remarks

Comments (2) Africa, Featured, Politics

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari

Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian President, aimed a subtle attack on David Cameron’s hypocrisy after the British PM’s comments on Nigerian corruption.

Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian President, was in London this month for a multinational conference on tackling corruption. The summit was being held at the Commonwealth Secretariat, in the UK’s capital city, and played host to numerous world leaders as well as the US Secretary of State, John Kerry.

While the event was a positive move by different nations to discuss strategies for breaking down corruption, it was preceded by an embarrassing leak regarding the British Prime Minister.

Only days before the scheduled meeting, Cameron was overheard talking to the British Queen and saying, “We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain … Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.”

Buhari’s balanced retort

As Mr. Cameron’s comments were widely reported, President Buhari’s office released a statement to say that the President was “deeply shocked and embarrassed” by the Prime Minister’s remarks.

However, there was a much more subtle retort about to come. A retort in which Buhari accepted the issues that his country faces with corruption, but also shone a light on the vein of hypocrisy, that some might see, within Cameron’s words.

When asked by the BBC whether Nigeria was indeed “fantastically corrupt,” Mr Buhari responded “yes,” and then elaborated on Cameron’s remarks by saying, “He was telling the truth. He was talking about what he knew.”

But the real riposte came when Mr Buhari explained that he was not demanding “any apology from anybody,” adding, “I am demanding a return of assets. What would I do with an apology? I need something tangible.”

This was a reference to the billions of dollars of money stolen from Nigeria by corrupt officials, who then took their ill-gotten gains to the UK. The most recent example of this involves former Nigerian state governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who fled Nigeria as he faced corruption charges, and arrived in Britain with $1.8 million in cash. While Alamieyeseigha was arrested in the UK, and charged with money laundering. £1 million of this money was eventually returned to Nigeria through the Metropolitan Police.

Moreover, this was not an isolated case, or even close to being the largest amount. Funds stolen from Nigeria and siphoned to the UK are nothing new. Almost 20 years ago, the former military head of state, Sani Abacha, was shown to have stolen approximately $5 billion from Nigeria’s coffers, and half of this is estimated to have been laundered in the UK. None of this money was ever recovered by Nigeria, and the incumbent President wonders just where it is and when it will be returned.

The former governor of Nigeria’s Delta State, James Onanefe Ibori, is also estimated to have stolen $250 million from his homeland. Ibori is serving jail time in the UK, but his multitude of British properties has not been processed in order to ensure that the laundered money is sent back to its rightful home.

The reality for both nations

It is of course clear that Nigeria’s corruption problem outweighs Britain’s. However, perhaps one of the largest issues is that Nigeria’s corruption adversely affects its own people, while Britain’s corruption often allows a small number to benefit from theft outside its own shores.

Transparency International’s Corruption Index ranked Nigeria 136th out of 168 nations, and the UK was ranked 10th. However, Transparency International criticized Prime Minister Cameron’s comments, saying that the UK was a key part of the global corruption problem by “providing a safe haven for corrupt assets” and being “by far the most important part of the global offshore system of tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions.”

The recent scandal around the Panama Papers, and the naming of Mr. Cameron’s father in them, is a timely reminder that corruption is not simply a problem in the developing world.

The presence of the various world leaders in London is a positive step, but Nigeria could justifiably argue it is doing more than most to address its problems.

The Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has only been operating since 2003, and yet by 2013 it had thousands of convictions. Nigeria appears to be taking corruption seriously, and “embarrassing” comments put to the side, it must be hoped that all the nations at the anti-corruption talks can work together for sustained progress.

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Nigeria investigates banking deals, questions CEOs

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigeria’s central bank and its financial crimes agency have launched an investigation into banking deals after allegations of illegal transactions and has interrogated three top banking executives, officials and bankers said on Tuesday

The move signals an escalation of a crackdown on graft by President Muhammadu Buhari who got elected a year ago on a ticket to fix the economy of a country where most Nigerians live in poverty despite its enormous energy wealth.

But analysts said the probe which saw three banking chief executives escorted from their offices is a hit to a sector already reeling from a slump in oil revenues and the country’s worst economic crisis for decades.

“It’s a shock to confidence in the banking sector. They should have handled this investigation more discreetly rather than arresting CEOs in their offices,” said Bismark Rewane, CEO of Lagos-based consultancy Financial Derivatives.

“I fear for the ramifications.”

Banking sources say the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been investigating several banks for conducting possibly illegal transactions in the run-up to the March 2016 election to support then-president Goodluck Jonathan, who eventually lost to Buhari.

Corruption spiked under Jonathan but his supporters reject Buhari’s claims that his government had plundered the treasury and accuse Buhari, a former military ruler, of conducting a witch hunt.

The central bank said it was part of the probe to determine “the extent and persons that may be involved in such activities”. It gave no details but said the banking sector remained strong and described the deals in question as “isolated”.

But for banks in Africa’s biggest economy the probe couldn’t come at a worse time as several have recently reported falls in profit while bad loans have burgeoned due to exposure to the ailing oil industry. Some are in the middle of restructuring their business models.

The banks have also been hit by Buhari’s decision to freeze the naira rate, which has made investors reluctant to pour money into the West African nation as they expect him to devalue the currency anyway due to a loss of oil revenues.

Part of the foreign exchange trade has moved to the parallel market as banks have run out of dollars.

 

QUESTIONING

The crackdown started when the EFCC said last week it had obtained a court order to arrest the managing director of Nigeria’s Fidelity Bank, Nnamdi Okonkwo, and question him. A bank official said he had been released on Friday.

Nigerian media outlets, including The Premium Times, citing unnamed sources, said Okonkwo had been arrested on suspicion that he received $115 million from Jonathan’s oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke. It was not clear if the central bank was referring to these allegations in Tuesday’s statement.

Alison-Madueke’s lawyer was not immediately available to comment.

She is under investigation over allegations of bribery and money laundering and was questioned by London police in October. Alison-Madueke is still in Britain undergoing cancer treatment, her lawyer has said. [nL5N1223TQ] [nL8N12A0EA]

Fidelity said last week it had appointed an acting CEO and was cooperating in the probe, saying all its transactions had been reported to regulators. The bank declined any further comment.

Sterling Bank, another domestic lender, said on its website that EFCC agents had questioned its Chief Executive Yemi Adeola and other members of its senior management team.

The bank said it did not hold an account of “the public officer from the previous administration” linked to the probe, without elaborating.

A third bank, Access Bank, said agents had visited it on Friday to investigate a transaction involving a customer of the bank and had questioned its group managing director, Herbert Wigwe, in the EEFC offices.

“He was released without charge on the same day,” the bank said in a statement.

An official at the EFCC, asking not to be named, said the investigation was ongoing and declined to give further details.

In January Nigeria’s former national security adviser Sambo Dasuki went on trial on fraud charges in the country’s first high-profile corruption trial since Buhari took over.

 

(By Oludare Mayowa and Ulf Laessing. Additional reporting by Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Editing by Louise Ireland and Gareth Jones)

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Egypt supply minister says close to wiping out graft in wheat sector

Comments (0) Business, Latest Updates from Reuters, Middle East

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s supply minister said the world’s top wheat buyer is close to eradicating graft in its strategic sector, defending the country’s management of the system against criticisms that it is vulnerable to corruption.

He said authorities distribute 6 billion loaves of bread to citizens each month and that a smart card system rolled out in 2014 had virtually ended graft in the system.

Officials, traders and bakers who spoke to Reuters for a March 15 story on the wheat sector said reforms, including the smart card system, had failed and ended up fuelling more corruption.

Challenging the Reuters story, Supply Minister Khaled Hanafi repeated his assertions that the system has saved millions of dollars in bread subsidies, reducing imports, and ended shortages that once prompted long queues outside bakeries across the country.

“We have a system now that counts every single loaf of bread consumed,” he said in an interview.

A Reuters spokeswoman said the news agency stood by its story.

Wheat has become a key issue in recent months because the stability of Egypt’s supply chain has been threatened by an agricultural quarantine official’s zero-tolerance policy on ergot, a common fungus.

The policy caused a mass boycott of state wheat tenders. The quarantine official was removed from his position.

In 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government rolled out a system of smart cards designed to stop unscrupulous bakeries selling government-subsidised flour on the black market.

Corruption had been close to eliminated, Hanafi said in the interview, because the smart card system is effective and allows the ministry to monitor flows of bread.

The stakes are high for Sisi, who has promised to end graft, including irregularities in the wheat industry. Wheat shortages have sparked riots in the past. When Egyptians revolted against autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 one of their most potent chants was “Bread, freedom and social justice.”

The bread subsidy programme, which feeds tens of millions of poor Egyptians, is central to avoiding unrest.

Under the smart card programme, each family is provided with a plastic card enabling it to buy five small flat loaves of bread per family member a day.

Internal statistics produced by the Ministry of Supply and reviewed by Reuters suggest the problems with the smart card system were considerable.

Hanafi says the system is almost foolproof and that his ministry has kept corruption to a minimum, in contrast to the past, when he says 50 percent of Egypt’s flour supply was stolen.

“We are serving 80 million Egyptians. And we are serving 6 billion loaves of bread per month,” Hanafi said.”Any fraction, any tiny small fraction in absolute figures, could be relatively large. But as a percent it is nothing. It is less than even the normal level of error that exists.”

 

(By Michael Georgy. Editing by Simon Robinson, Veronica Brown and Dale Hudson)

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Ibe Emmanuel Kachikwu Takes on Corruption at Nigeria’s State Oil Company

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Latest Updates from Reuters, Politics

nigeria oil

by Enu Afolayan, Contributor

The President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, is committed to fighting corruption in his country. On June 26th, immediately after being elected, he ordered the dissolution of the board of the Nigerian petroleum company NNPC. Nigeria extracts two million barrels of crude every day, which makes it the largest producer of black gold in Africa. By attacking the petroleum sector, Buhari made a brave attempt to solve the country’s most serious mismanagement and corruption problem.

In 1970s, Buhari was the Minister of Oil and oversaw the birth of the NNPC. Corruption began to spread in the corporation as early as 1978, when it failed to repay the Treasury of Nigeria. Now, the “Father of the NNPC” is determined to put an end to the widespread corruption. He appointed Ibe Kachikwu as the new head of the petroleum corporation to take on this challenge.

Kachikwu arrived at the helm of NNPC right after the publication of an independent analysis by the Resource Governance Institute (NRGI). The analysis unveiled that over $32 billion in oil revenue was lost by Nigeria due to money laundering at the NNPC.

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