Anti-corruption investigators are probing payments by ChevronTexaco and Royal Dutch Shell to a company owned by a powerful Nigerian politician they suspect has laundered tens of millions of dollars in British banks, property and cars.
James Ibori, who was governor of Delta State until last May, is being investigated by British and Nigerian authorities over sums he is alleged to have accumulated during his years in office.
A UK court affidavit seen by the Financial Times says there is reasonable cause to believe Mr Ibori bled money from his oil-rich state and bought assets including a $20m jet, houses in London and Dorset, and a €406,000 ($595,460) armour-plated Mercedes-Benz from a Mayfair dealership.
The affidavit was drawn up in July by British police investigating corruption by foreign officials in the UK as part of a successful legal effort to restrain Mr Ibori’s assets. On Thursday, the High Court threw out an attempt by Mr Ibori to have the freezing order quashed.
The affidavit highlights a number of British bank accounts, including some at Barclays and one at Abbey National, suspected of being used by Mr Ibori or associates involved in money laundering. Barclays and Abbey declined to comment.
The document says police are examining £2.3m ($4.7m) of payments made over the past three years by ChevronTexaco and the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation into a dollar-denominated Barclays account in London held on behalf of MER Engineering, a company owned by Mr Ibori.
The affidavit says the “purportedly legitimate” payments were for the rental of two houseboats for oil workers, although it suspects the transfers were “corrupt payments rather than in exchange for legitimate services”.
Nuhu Ribadu, chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which has worked closely with the British investigators, told the FT he was “investigating huge payments made by Shell and Chevron to MER Engineering” over the hiring of the houseboats.
Chevron confirmed it had hired two houseboats from MER, but declined to give more details. It said it believed it had complied with anti-corruption laws.
Shell said MER was on its register of approved contractors. It declined to elaborate on the amount and type of work done by MER.
NNPC said it never paid bribes. Mr Ibori and his London lawyer could not be reached for comment.
complicit in environmental degradation and human rights violations. That the Ogoni people whose lands have created so much oil revenue continue to see little to no benefit from these proceeds has been a cause celebre for the longest time. Meanwhile, the state execution of Ogoni environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995 reinforced perceptions that energy companies were indifferent to environmental and human rights abuses in Nigeria. Have these companies learned to tread more carefully given the bad press they have gotten from Nigeria? Unfortunately, the Financial Times notes that Shell and Chevron have once again been implicated, this time with bribing a powerful Nigerian politician. Same old, same old...