UK's NCA Charges Former Nigerian Oil Minister With Bribery

File image courtesy World Economic Forum

Published Aug 23, 2023 10:23 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK's National Crime Agency has charged Diezani Alison-Madueke, former president of OPEC, of accepting cash bribes and luxury holidays in exchange for oil and gas contracts during her term as the director of Nigeria's oil ministry.

Nigeria's oil and gas industry is notorious for corruption, the "resource curse" of a developing nation with a state-controlled extractive industry. Previous investigations have suggested that the amount of money involved could be vast: In 2017, Eni and Shell were accused of effectively paying $0.5-1.1 billion in bribes to Nigerian officials in exchange for favorable access to lease block OPL-245. The transaction allegedly occurred in 2011, overlapping the period when Alison-Madueke ran the oil ministry. Shell and Eni have denied any wrongdoing, and both were ultimately acquitted by courts in Italy.

In a separate case announced in the UK this week, the UK's National Crime Agency has accused Alison-Madueke of accepting the equivalent of at least $125,000 in bribes in exchange for E&P leases. The NCA claims that she benefited from illicit payments of cash, chauffeur driven cars, flights on private jets, luxury holidays for her family, and the use of multiple London properties. The charging documents also describe valuable rewards like furniture, renovation work and staff, payment of private school fees, and gifts from high-end designer shops, such as Cartier jewelery and Louis Vuitton goods.

The NCA has already taken the step of freezing assets valued in the millions of pounds in connection with the case. 

Alison-Madueke, 63, has been accused of bribery many times before - by a sitting central bank governor, by the Nigerian press, and by the U.S. government - but this time the accusations are criminal, and the case is local. She currently lives within reach of UK law enforcement, residing in the affluent St. John’s Wood neighborhood of central London. She is expected to appear at Westminster Magistrates Court on October 2.

Alison-Madueke is a graduate of Howard University and Cambridge, and she worked her way up through the ranks at Shell Nigeria. She transitioned into government in 2008 and oversaw the petroleum ministry from 2011-15, during the administration of former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. In 2013, the then-governor of Nigeria's central bank, Muhammadu Sunusi, publicly accused her of participating in the theft of $20 billion in national oil revenue. He was quickly dismissed, and Alison-Madueke remained in office another two years. U.S. and UK officials told journalists at PBS that they believed the amount of the alleged theft was considerably lower, about $6 billion, mostly obtained by corruptly awarding oil and gas contracts to companies owned by personal associates. 

Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice obtained court orders for the forfeiture of $53 million worth of American real estate and luxury goods linked to Nigerial oil deals. The DOJ claimed that two Nigerian businessmen bought these U.S.-based assets using money from contracts linked to Alison-Madueke's approval authority. DOJ's civil cases alleged that the two men had paid her bribes in exchange for oil contracts, then laundered $100 million worth of earnings from those contracts through shell companies in the United States. Among the assets they allegedly purchased (and DOJ seized) were "luxury real estate in California and New York as well as the Galactica Star, a 65-meter superyacht."

"Basically, all it does is allows a group of people who themselves don't have any kind of operating background just to pay $50 million, OK, for access to the crude oil in blocks valued at over $2 billion. And they just take the crude, ship it out, and don't return the money. And there is no trace of where the money has gone," explained former central banker Muhammadu Sunusi, speaking to PBS.