21 November 2013, Lagos — Nigerian lawmakers are launching an investigation into the oil industry after a financial watchdog group said Swiss traders may have been involved in what they called “one of the most massive frauds the African continent has experienced.”
In January 2012 outraged Nigerian citizens took to the streets when fuel subsidies were cut and the price of gas and food skyrocketed. The subsidy was eventually reinstated.
By then the public already knew that corrupt oil officials had stolen $6.8 billion worth of the money meant to pay for the subsidy between 2009 and 2011.
Nearly two years later, the scandal lives on and the list of the people involved is still growing.
The financial watchdog group Berne Declaration says Swiss commodities traders are major players in the oil business in Nigeria, the largest exporter in Africa. Berne Declaration senior researcher Marc Gueniat says some of those traders may be involved in the scam.
“Swiss traders are delivering petroleum products to Nigerian importers who have absolutely no kind of credibility businesswise,” he said.
Oil companies with no credibility are well-documented in Nigeria. When the $6.8 billion fraud was exposed, so were companies that neither import nor export any oil products at all but still get subsidy money.
Gueniat says Swiss traders are allowed to deal with officials or relatives of officials who may have access to public funds and a history of corruption.
“They are completely free to do business with such people, with such companies according to Swiss laws. And this is a problem for us,” he said.
He says there is evidence Nigeria’s national petroleum company, known as the NNPC, has made shady deals with two of the world’s largest oil traders, Vitol Group and Trafigura, both based in Switzerland.
The NNPC denies the accusation, saying the report is “not only bogus but strewn with inaccurate and poorly researched data.”
Vitol Group and Trafigura also say the report is false, and that they have strict anti-corruption policies.