By Catherine Agbo,
The federal government is considering the review or termination of a Joint Venture Agreement between the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and Dredging International Services (Cyprus) Ltd, one of the technical partners of Bonny Channel Management Limited (BCML) that runs the Bonny Channel Company (BCC) with the NPA, following alleged $20 million bribery scandal involving the firm and some former top officials of the NPA.
This is coming three months after the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office, in May 2017, released a report in which it detailed how the sum of $20 million was allegedly paid as bribes to some NPA officials between 2007 and 2011.
About $18million was said to have been allegedly wired by Dredging International Services (Cyprus) Ltd to some offshore and shell companies.
Based on the report, Dredging International Services (Cyprus) Ltd, one of the technical partners, was sentenced to a fine of one million Swiss Francs and directed to refund 36 million Swiss Francs in illegal profits for allegedly making the illicit payments to the Nigerian officials.
Following the release of the indictment report by the Swiss authorities, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman, had a few weeks back revealed that the joint venture company indicted by the Swiss government would be investigated and prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The NPA, according to her, had obtained the Swiss court sanctioning and forwarded same to the EFCC for further investigation on the persons and the entities that were said to have benefited from the graft and also forwarded the Swiss court documents to the AGF’s office to guide it in its continued relation with the firm in view of the sanction from the Swiss court for corrupt practices with NPA officials.
LEADERSHIP gathered that a review or outright termination of the agreement was now imminent, based on findings so far, by the office of the Attorney-general of the Federation.
Other actions being considered against the company by the federal government include review of the JV with others in the consortium; imposition of sanctions on the indicted company including banning it from any further business with NPA; filing fresh charges against the company in Nigeria; and prosecution of officials of the company and the former NPA officials who were named in the alleged scandal.
It was gathered that the AGF’s office, in the course of investigation, found out that Dredging International Services (Cyprus) Ltd has been part of a consortium which has executed contracts for the NPA worth over N714 billion, over the years.
It also uncovered other former NPA officials who were part of those that shared the largesse, but were not named in the Swiss report.
The consortium entered into a Joint Venture Agreement with NPA to form the Bonny Channel Management in 2005, for creating and maintaining a safe navigational passage for all marine users to and in the Eastern Ports of Bonny Island, Onne, Okrika and Port Harcourt.
While the NPA holds 60 per cent equity in the JV, The Bonny Channel Management is credited with the balance of 40 per cent.
A source in the NPA who spoke to LEADERSHIP yesterday said the indicted company had admitted to paying bribe to some of its officials but said they were left no option after the NPA officials held onto their payment invoices and refused to release them unless the bribe was paid.
Dredging International Services (Cyprus) Ltd in a correspondence to NPA also said it had put in place some measures to forestall a reoccurrence of such incident, even as it had already paid the fine imposed on it by the Swiss authorities.
LEADERSHIP gathered from a source in the know of the development that the federal government’s decision to review or terminate the agreement was in line with the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration’s zero tolerance for corruption.
The source added that the firm’s excuse of being frustrated by the NPA officials was not tenable, adding that there are appropriate channels it would have followed in getting its invoices released.
“The government will certainly take action on the indictment of Dredging International Services (Cyprus) Ltd and others by the Swiss authorities. This administration will not condone any act of corruption. But what the government is trying to do is to follow due process. So far, the NPA said it has sought advice from its Legal Unit and as a major shareholder in the Joint Ventures, the government is awaiting its input.
“The relevant anti-corruption agency is already investigating the bribery scandal. At the appropriate time, Nigerians will be informed of the outcome of the ongoing investigation and the position of the government”, the source stated.
The source further pointed out that the NPA, under Bala Usman, was resolute in its bid to rid the system of corrupt practices through which the federal government is defrauded of revenue that should accrue to it.
“We are trying to follow due process by opting for legal advice from the relevant unit. Since the new management came on board, it has embarked on drastic measures to rid the system of corrupt practices. But political meanings are being read into our policies and actions.
“When we acted on Intels, there was uproar and there was another measure put in place which a former Head of State was angry with. At the end of the day, we will lay all the cards on the table on the bribery scandal involving Dredging International Services (Cyprus) Ltd and take the best decision in the overriding interest of this country.”
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