Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja with agency reports
The federal government yesterday led evidence to convince a United Kingdom (UK) High Court to accept its allegation that the Gas Supply Purchasing Agreement (GSPA) between Nigeria and Process and Industrial Developments (P&ID) for a 20-year contract on gas project, was conceived with the full intent of defrauding Nigeria.
It said the GSPA, under which P&ID was to build gas processing facilities in Cross River State and the government was to supply wet gas up to 400 million standard cubic feet per day that will be processed to generate electricity, was a grand scheme conceived by an Irish businessman, Mr. Michael Quinn, in cahoots with top Nigerian government officials to defraud the country.
The lawyer representing the Nigerian government, Mr. Mark Howard, told an online UK High Court session, headed by Sir Ross Cranston, that P&ID knew from the beginning that there was no deal, noting that it was only a facade to fleece Nigeria.
Nigeria also alleged that it has uncovered previously unknown payments to Vera Taiga, a daughter of a Nigerian official, Mrs. Grace Taiga, in the country’s latest attempt to overturn the $9.6 billion arbitration award against it.
Nigerian government’s lawyer also said he had evidence of payments from companies related to P&ID to Vera, 11 days before the deal was signed in January 2010.
Taiga was a former director of Legal Services for the Ministry of Petroleum, whose political head, Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, signed the GSPA at the time on behalf of Nigeria.
The government said one payment of $4,969.50 was made on December 30, 2009, and a second of $5,000 on January 31, 2012.
The payments came to light following a United States discovery order in New York, it said. The government also said P&ID officials, and companies linked to it, paid several other officials in relation to the deal.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had in 2019 charged Taiga with accepting bribes and failing to follow protocol related to the contract.
She has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial.
P&ID, founded by the late Quinn and Brendan Cahill, the lawyer told the court, had no intention to perform any obligation concerning the purported contract, reason the company went about bribing Nigerian government officials at the time.
The company had taken legal action against Nigeria for alleged breach of contract, with a panel of three arbitrators voting 2-1 to award P & ID the full sum of its claim of $6.6 billion, plus interest which spiked the arbitration value to about $10 billion.
In January 2010, Nigeria allegedly signed the gas processing project, but two years later the company began an arbitration process, alleging breach of contract.
In July 2015, a London tribunal gave judgment in favour of the company and in January 2017, gave the final award of $6.6 billion, with an interest rate of seven per cent, pre and post-judgment.
Citing fraud, the federal government ordered an investigation by the EFCC and in January requested a hearing to present evidence that the so-called deal was a fraud.
The project first started under Lukman, whom the Nigerian legal representative said yesterday spearheaded the alleged fraud.
The federal government told the judge that Lukman and several government officials knew the agreement was a sham and stood to make financial gains.
Howard told Cranston that one Taofiq Tijani, who chaired the government technical committee that reviewed the gas plant contract, had admitted receiving $50,000 in cash from the late P & ID Project Director, Neil Hitchcock, after meeting with Quinn.
“It is the corrupt elite who make payments to government officials when they are about to get a government contract. The first payment was cash, the rest were through the banking system. The question is what was the essence of these payments? Mr. Tijani said he had significant pressure to put the project through.
“The payments we are referring to is a cash payment to Mr. Tijani. These were disguised payments to cover up their tracks.
“October 19, £30,000, April 14, naira equivalent of €15,000 and same date €26,400 pounds and €13,317. These are all payments in connection with the project, which is described on page 34,” the lawyer told the court.
The federal government said there was no reason for P&ID to make those payments to Tijani if it was not because they knew the project was a scam.
“My Lord, you look at these payments and look at Mr. Tijani concerning these payments and you see that these payments cannot be accounted for. We are putting on one side the $50,000 that Mr. Tijani said he was paid in cash,” he said.
Still pushing the narrative that no legal contract existed, the federal government mentioned that one Ibrahim Dikko admitted to receiving gifts from the company, which the Nigerian government said was inappropriate.
“We want to look at some other evidence. Mr. Dikko took over as the legal director in 2011 and he confessed on the 13th of January this year that he had been given $2,000 in cash by Mr. Quinn. Mr. Dikko was a government lawyer and what basis could Mr. Quinn be making personal gifts to a government lawyer when he was dealing with a government body.
“The suggestion is that it is plausible that Mr. Quinn could have sought to bribe Mr. Dikko. Before we consider anything else that Tijani said he received, let’s look at the accounts, bribes were being paid to obtain this contract,” he said.
In trying to convince the judge that the project was a sham, Howard said in the first quarter of 2010, there were massive withdrawals of millions of dollars from the company’s accounts, which he said were not a coincidence, since the late Quinn had just met with President Umaru Yar’Adua, now deceased, at the time.
He said the excuse that Nigeria was a cash economy at the time and that much of the transactions were done in cash was not tenable.
“It would be unheard of, for a company with such large-scale oil and gas project to be spending millions of dollars in cash which is illegal under Nigeria’s money laundering legislation,” the lawyer told the court.
He added that the late Quinn had told the lower tribunal “a pack of lies,” and the deceased had no intention then of performing any contract from the moment talks on the project began.
“Lukman, Tijani and several other persons were ‘procured’ by the company. This case is an affront to decency,” he stated.
Nigeria’s lawyer also asked for more time to appeal the about $10 billion arbitration award and pursue its claims that the 2010 gas supply contract with Process & Industrial Developments Limited was a sham.
It applied to the U.S. courts in March seeking documents from 10 banks, including Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., in a bid to prove its corruption allegations. P&ID denies any wrongdoing and argues that Nigeria missed its window to appeal.
“It is very unusual in a fraud case to discover a single smoking gun,” Howard also told the court yesterday on the first morning of a two-day hearing.
“By its very nature, fraud is conducted in secret,” which makes it hard to detect and justifies an extension, he said.
Nigeria’s lawyers are seeking another hearing for the judge to decide whether misconduct has taken place, and whether it justifies overturning the contract.
P&ID has said the Nigerian government is engaged in a “manufactured fraud investigation” that has denied its subjects due process.
Reuters reported that in a skeleton legal argument, its lawyers said the payments were legitimate and for medical expenses.
The hearing will continue today and the judge’s ruling will determine whether the government can continue its appeal and present its full case of alleged fraud in the English courts
Evidence of P&ID’s “highly orchestrated scam” had only recently come to light, Nigeria’s Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, said in a statement.
Lawyers to Nigeria have said they have uncovered alleged bribes to government officials and their family members dating back to 2009.
“There is good reason to believe that ministers at the highest level were involved in a corrupt scheme to steal money from Nigeria,” Malami said in court filings submitted on March 24.
P&ID, a British Virgin Islands-registered firm, alleged that Nigeria invented the fraud allegations to avoid paying its legitimate penalty. P&ID’s spokesmen in London didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Bloomberg reported that Nigeria would still have options for appealing should it lose in the London court.