Nigeria’s oil industry in panic mode over Diezani’s arrest

*Nigeria's Bonny Light crude oil.

*Nigeria’s Bonny Light crude oil.

*British crime agency seeks ‘Persons of Interest’

04 October 2015, Abuja – There was palpable panic at the weekend in Nigeria’s oil industry following the news of the arrest, and bail after several hours of questioning, of former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, in London, by United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency (NCA) as industry players waited with bated breath for details of her arrest and the identities of the four others arrested with her for questioning.

The former oil minister, who relocated to London shortly before the tenure of the government in which she served ended in May, was arrested on Friday by the International Corruption Unit of the NCA along with four unnamed persons as part of an investigation into suspected bribery and money laundering offences, which the agency said it began in 2013.

It was believed that the four other persons arrested along with her were mainly her personal staff, including her driver and a London-based assistant.

The five of them were later released on conditional police bail on Friday evening, pending further investigation both in the UK, in Nigeria and overseas just as the NCA is said to be seeking a few persons of interest, mainly top player in the Nigeria’s oil industry during her five years as oil minister.

Many in the sector are however flustered by the development as this is the first time a key oil figure will be arrested and questioned in an industry notorious for free wheeling oily deals and revolving doors.

Her interrogation in London has already unsettled the industry in Lagos and Abuja as many made efforts to find out who was arrested with her and who is next on the UK list of persons of interest many of whom are believed to be oil traders and contractors who were close to her.

Not knowing what she may have told her interrogators or the documents already in the possession of the NCA, key players in the oil industry, particularly some of her close allies are said to be worried about what could be unearthed in the course of the ongoing probe and how far it will go given the cooperation of the NCA, the US FBI, The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission of Nigeria (EFCC), the Department of State Security of Nigeria ( DSS) , the Europol and several European crime busting agencies in a major intentional cooperation with the Buhari Administration. Indeed THISDAY checks reveal that the Buhari Administration may have shared a list of up to 38 Persons of Interest and suspect companies with the agencies for thorough investigation. It is the fear of who is listed or not listed that has kept the Nigerian business community busy at the weekend with some major banks asking their oil and gas unit to review all their transactions.

Alison-Madueke’s tenure as oil minister witnessed several controversial offshore process contracts and crude oil swaps some of which had been reviewed or canceled outrightly by President Muhammadu Buhari, who has vowed to prosecute whoever is indicted in the looting of the nation’s resources.
Her tenure also witnessed the payments of bloated subsidy claims to oil importers, some of whom are currently being prosecuted by EFCC.

Observers are already drawing a parallel between her travail and that of some former governors who were arrested by the Metropolitan Police, prosecuted (and convicted) in London. In the Alison-Madueke’s case, her investigation is being carried out by ICU, an arm of NCA
According to information on its website, ICU investigates “bribery of foreign public officials by individuals or companies from the UK; and money laundering by corrupt foreign officials and their associates.”

The unit will also “trace and recover the proceeds of international corruption; support foreign law enforcement agencies with international anti-corruption investigations; and engage with government and business to reduce the UK’s exposure to the proceeds of corruption.”
Meanwhile, it was gathered last night that it was not certain that she would appear in court tomorrow (Monday) as earlier speculated.
Back home, when THISDAY visited the Asokoro, Abuja residence of the former minister yesterday, it was observed that the premises were not sealed off contrary to reports in the media.

EFCC operatives had raided the former minister’s residence on Friday during which it carried out a search for several hours, prompting speculations that her premises had been sealed off.

THISDAY checks revealed that EFCC operatives remained at the residence located at number 10, Fredrick Chiluba Street, Asokoro, Abuja, until about 11:30pm Friday night.

When THISDAY visited the former minister’s premises at about 1pm yesterday, the entrance was not sealed off and a police patrol van with registration number NPF 212 7C from the Asokoro Police Division with about four uniformed police men were sighted at the entrance.

THISDAY also gathered that the security presence was regular at the premises and the number of security men guarding the residence has reduced, relative to when she held sway as minister of petroleum resources in the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Efforts to however find out the outcome of the search conducted by EFCC on her premises were unsuccessful as efforts to reach the commission’s Spokesperson, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, proved abortive.
*Kunle Aderinokun & Adebiyi Adedapo – Thisday

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