Nigeria’s government is in a London court to ask for more time to appeal a $9.6 billion (€8.8 billion) arbitration award, an amount that is more than the country’s income from oil last year.
The country, Africa's largest crude producer, wants more time to pursue its accusations that the 2010 gas supply contract with Process and Industrial Developments Ltd (P&ID) was a sham. Last year, a British judge upheld the arbitration award P&ID won in 2017.
P&ID was founded by Irish businessmen Michael Quinn and Brendan Cahill.
The dispute comes as the West African nation's revenue is being disrupted by a collapse in oil prices. It applied to US courts in March seeking documents from 10 banks, including Citigroup Inc and JPMorgan Chase and 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," Mark Howard, Nigeria's lawyer, said on Monday 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.
“This case is an affront to decency – on any view this is obviously an eye watering amount of money. The arbitration agreement in the gas sales and purchase agreement was an integral part of the fraud,” Mr Howard said.
Evidence of P&ID's "highly orchestrated scam" had only recently come to light, Nigerian attorney general Abubakar Malami said in a statement.
Lawyers for the West African nation say 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 24th.
P&ID, a British Virgin Islands-registered firm, alleges that the Nigerian government invented the fraud allegations to avoid paying its legitimate penalty. P&ID’s spokesmen in London didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Nigeria would still have options for appealing should it lose in the London court.