This Day (Lagos)

11 December 2012

Nigeria: EFCC Asks Swiss Authorities for Help With Fuel Subsidy Scam

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Petrol Pump

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has confirmed that it had sought Switzerland's help in the investigation of a multi-billion dollar fuel subsidy scam, after some Swiss oil marketing companies refused to cooperate with the authorities in Abuja.

This came as the anti-graft commission yesterday said it intercepted N15.5 billion from suspects in various airports across the country between January and December.

This was contained in a statement signed by the acting Head of Media of the commission, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, in Abuja.

The chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde, confirmed to Reuters that a request was sent to Swiss authorities in October after some oil marketing companies declined to provide documents.

"They are not forthcoming. And most of the information is not in their Nigerian offices," Lamorde told Reuters.

He declined to name the companies, which did not cooperate.

The EFCC is trying to unpick a web of collusion between fuel importers and corrupt officials that has led to the Federal Government, paying nearly double the amount of fuel it receives.

Asked if trading houses were themselves complicit in the fraud, Lamorde replied: "We just want information to confirm some of the things the (Nigerian fuel) marketers have said ... whether they sold such products to Nigerians or not."

The judicial authority for Geneva, home to many private trading houses, said Switzerland had requested additional information on the probe from Nigerian authorities.

"This case involves suspected subsidy fraud on imports of refined products by Nigerian companies. They acquired the oil from companies based in Geneva," a spokeswoman for the authority said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

She added that Geneva-based trading houses were not directly implicated in the Nigerian investigation.

She did not name the companies involved in shipments. Past suppliers have included many large Swiss-based private trading houses. Swiss-based Nimex Petroleum was suspended earlier this year by Nigeria's fuel regulator for failing to provide documents for shipments.

A source at a trading house said some international commodity trading firms had been asked earlier this year to provide paperwork of fuel shipments to Nigerian authorities as part of the probe.

A probe by the National Assembly put the cost of the fuel subsidy fraud at $6.8 billion between 2009 and 2011, almost a quarter of the national budget.

As a result of the probe, some fuel importers have been charged in courts but no one has been convicted, and most of the targets have been relatively low level, rather than big players.

The Federal Government opened an investigation in January into fraud in the administration of the subsidy scheme, after an abortive attempt to remove it by President Goodluck Jonathan.

Nigeria imports most of the fuel it consumes because its refineries are ill-maintained and run at a fraction of their capacity. The government buys the fuel then sells it to the public at cheap, subsidised prices.

Private fuel marketers are thought to have abused the country's subsidy system by misreporting fuel volumes, for example by reporting the same cargo more than once in a practice known as "round-tripping."

Some of this fuel was sourced from tankers chartered by large oil companies anchored offshore Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Lamorde who spoke at the 2012 International Anti-Corruption Day, with the theme: "Act....Help Detect Corruption Risks Today," which was organised in Abuja, by an anti-corruption non-governmental organisation, Inter-Agency Task Team, disclosed that the amount were recovered from those arrested at various airports across the country.

The statement quoted Lamorde as saying the amount represented physical cash, which should have been taken out of the country illegally through the nation's airports.

He said out of the amount, N14 billion was about to be taken out of Nigeria but was intercepted.

Lamorde also said the operation of the Special Task Team comprising of customs officers and the commission's operatives also helped in the arrest of illegal cash couriers with more than $9 million.

He, however, linked illegal cash transfers and corruption to greed, callousness and meanness of the people involved.

According to him, corruption is one of the reasons Nigeria has not been able to make progress, socially, politically and economically, saying all must come together to fight the menace.

The EFCC chairman also called for a review of anti-corruption legislation and proper funding of the anti-graft agencies.

Lamorde said the current criminal procedure laws were responsible for the slow pace of trial of corruption cases and not the judiciary.

According to him, the commission has so far filed about 353 cases in various courts and has secured about 53 convictions between January and December.

The chairman, however, reiterated the need for a special courts to handle corruption cases.

"It is not fair on the anti-corruption agencies to say they are delaying cases; if you think there is no case to answer, please discharge the person.

"But where the person has a case to answer, the case will be concluded in good time," he said.

The statement also added that the chairman of NGO, Mr Ledum Mitee, said corruption had remained because of weak anti-corruption institutions in terms of capacity and funding.

Others are failure of leadership at all levels to genuinely "talk the talk and walk the walk" and the need for a more concerted effort in ensuring synergy in the operations of anti-corruption agencies.

According to him, the performance in the fight against corruption has been very poor and that there is the need to steer the ship aright.

Mitee said that with the establishment of the Inter-Agency Task Team (IATT), synergy would be built amongst the anti-corruption agencies.

He said the NGO had developed a draft national strategy document to tackle the menace of corruption and called for the adoption of the document by the Federal Executive Council.

With Agency Reports

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