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Fuel subsidy fraud accused not prosecuted

06 July 2012, 07:54

 Abuja/Lagos - Nigeria's Attorney General has filed a court petition to prevent anyone implicated in a $6.8 billion fuel subsidy corruption scandal being prosecuted, after allegations the investigator himself took a bribe to manipulate the report.

Nigerian legislator Farouk Lawan blew the lid on a massive scam in state fuel subsidy payments, exposing a web of fraudulent transactions that enabled corrupt officials and fuel marketers to grow rich, some without delivering a drop of fuel.

But now his committee's report is being called into question over allegations Lawan demanded, and took part of, a $3 million bribe from one of Nigeria's richest oil tycoons to remove him from the list of fraudsters.

Police questioned Lawan last month and parliament is investigating the claims. His lawyer told Reuters on Thursday that Lawan took $500,000 offered by tycoon Femi Otedola, but only in order to expose him, saying he disclosed it to parliament and left the cash there.

"The report of the committee will be studied and given to relevant agencies of government but (we) will not prosecute or take legal action against the person or persons indicted by the report," a petition filed by the justice ministry on behalf Attorney General Bello Adoke dated July 3 states.

The move could kill any attempt to seek justice against those implicated in the scandal, an outcome likely to please Nigeria's downstream oil marketers and some corrupt government officials, but enrage the public.

Smear campaign?

The report fingered several fuel companies, including a local unit of ExxonMobil, as being involved and called for the board of the state oil firm, including its head Oil Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, to resign.

President Goodluck Jonathan has since sacked and replaced the NNPC but kept Alison-Madueke.

Lawan declined to comment but a lawyer speaking on his behalf said the allegation is a smokescreen.

"Some powerful oil marketers are diverting attention from the main issue, which is the committee's report," he told Reuters by telephone.

Lawan's report was scathing about some of Nigeria's most powerful people - few would dare take on the oil minister - and was an embarrassment to Jonathan, whose office repeatedly pledged to prosecute those implicated but urged patience.

Otedola this week published an alleged audiotaped conversation between him and Lawan, in which the participants make arrangements for the delivery of cash. Lawan says the tape is not his voice but has been doctored to sound like him.

The oil tycoon has been quoted in the local press as saying Lawan solicited him for the bribe, and that he paid it as part of a sting operation to expose him as corrupt.

"That is totally untrue," his lawyer said. "He never demanded $3 million or any such amount. Otedola approached him in his hotel ... The money he took he turned over the house committee on financial crimes."

- Reuters


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