A Nigerian government official says he received a $50,000 (€42,000) cash “gift” stuffed in a black bag from representatives of an Irish-owned company that was seeking a gas contract in the African country.
Taofiq Tijani, who was a technical adviser to the country's petroleum ministry, also alleges that the Irish-backed company, Process & Industrial Development (P&ID), diverted about 7.7 million Nigerian naira (€17,000) into his bank account as a "contribution" to the cost of his son's wedding.
P&ID, which was co-founded by Irish businessmen, former showbands manager Mick Quinn and Dublin-based accountant Brendan Cahill, denies making the fraudulent payments. The payments were among a string of alleged bribes outlined in a UK high court judgment delivered last Friday as part of a $10 billion legal tussle between P&ID and the Nigerian government over the failed gas deal.
The case centres on a 2010 deal between Nigeria and P&ID to build a gas refinery there. P&ID, which is registered in the British Virgin islands, signed a contract to construct and operate the refinery while Nigeria was to supply the gas. The deal later fell through, and in 2017 P&ID won a final award at arbitration of $6.6 billion for 20 years of lost profits. This has since been accruing interest of more than $1 million per day.
The award was later confirmed by UK courts, which ruled last year that P&ID could seek to seize Nigerian assets abroad. However, the Nigerian government – now ruled by a different regime to the one that awarded the deal – subsequently alleged its state financial crimes commission uncovered a “massive fraud” by P&ID and has challenged the award, which threatened a fifth of its foreign reserves. The company has denied the Nigerian charges.
On Friday, the commercial division of the UK high court delivered a judgment that said the government had established “a strong prima facie case” that the gas deal was “procured by bribes paid to insiders as part of a larger scheme to defraud Nigeria”. The court also found “a strong prima facie case” that Mr Quinn, who died of cancer in 2015 and was an associate of former Fianna Fáil TD Liam Lawlor, gave perjured evidence to the arbitration tribunal.
The court last week gave Nigeria, which has queried more than $770,000 in cash transactions of companies linked to Mr Cahill and Mr Quinn, more time to appeal the arbitration award and has put a stay on the massive payout. P&ID said Nigeria’s claims of fraud are “wild conspiracy theories” and said it would welcome the opportunity to “refute the false allegations” at trial. Mr Cahill, who still lives in Dublin, has specifically denied any fraudulent activity occurred.
Mr Tijani, who has struck a deal with Nigerian authorities over his prosecution there, made his allegations in documents submitted to the UK courts and referred to in its judgment. As a technical official whose say-so was crucial to the gas deal going through, he says he was called to an "unusual meeting" in 2009 with Nigeria's then petroleum minister Rilwani Lukman.
Bag containing $50,000
He says Mr Quinn was at the meeting along with a colleague. Mr Tijani alleges the minister directed him to recommend that the contract go to P&ID. After the meeting, he alleges Mr Quinn’s colleague “dropped a black bag into his car, describing it as a ‘gift’ and that they normally took care of their friends. It contained US$50,000 in cash.” P&ID says there is no evidence this happened.
The company has also been accused of making payments to Mr Lukman, who has since died. The UK court judgment also outlines Nigerian accusations of a string of alleged bribes totalling tens of thousands of US dollars to Grace Taiga, who was a legal adviser to the petroleum ministry. These alleged payments continued for years, even after she retired not long after the contract was awarded.
Ms Taiga, whose official annual salary was $5,000, explained some of the alleged bribes to her and her daughter’s accounts by saying they were to pay for her medical bills. Mr Cahill admitted to the UK courts in a statement that some payments, which were uncovered when Nigeria trawled her bank accounts, were made to her. But he says she was a friend and the cash was to meet her medical needs after “she had a bad fall”. He has denied any wrongdoing.