Nigerian admirals pay the price for stealing captured oil tanker

Jan 08, 2005 01:00 AM

Two Nigerian admirals have been dismissed after a court martial found them guilty of helping to steal an oil tanker. The vessel was captured off the Nigerian coast two years ago with a cargo of 11,000 barrels of oil, the country's largest seizure of stolen crude.
The tanker, MT African Pride, vanished last August while being transferred from naval to civilian police custody. The two services blamed each other for the loss, causing an uproar in parliament and threatening to undermine Nigeria's attempts to shed its image of a country mired in corruption.

Anthony Aziegbemi, the chairman of a parliamentary committee that investigated the affair, told The Times that the crude oil, worth an estimated £ 1.3 mm, had not been removed from the ship before it disappeared. At the time he described the incident as a "national embarrassment".
Samuel Kolawole and Francis Agbiti, both rear-admirals, were dismissed from the Nigerian Navy for their role in the theft. It is the first time that any senior security officials in Nigeria have been convicted, even though the involvement of high-ranking government officials and civil servants in oil-smuggling is an open secret.

The illicit trade, known as "bunkering", drains more than 30,000 bpd from the world's eighth-largest oil producer. Youths tap the light crude from pipelines running across Nigeria's impoverished Delta region, then transport it in speed boats to rusty old tankers lying offshore.
After a two-month court martial in Lagos, Kolawole was found guilty of conspiracy, negligence, disobedience and lying. Agbiti was acquitted of conspiracy, but convicted of negligence and disobedience. The navy said that Kolawole had deliberately failed to provide security for the ship and had disregarded intelligence regarding its possible hijacking by the oil thieves' cartel. Both men said that they would appeal.
Rear-Admiral Antonio Bob-Manuel was acquitted on all charges. During the court martial, he said that he had turned down a £60,000 bribe from the brother of a former Defence Minister to release the ship.

The investigation also revealed that at least three leading Nigerian banks, with links to banks in Switzerland, had financed the trade in bunkered oil. Seven state governors face a separate investigation. A recent World Bank report stated that more than 80 % of Nigeria's revenue from oil and gas went into the hands of 1 % of its population. Most of Nigeria's 133 mm people eke out a living on less than 50p a day.
President Obasanjo, who swept to power in 1999 in democratic polls after years of military dictatorships, pledged far-reaching reforms to end high-level corruption.

A trial is expected to begin this month of several people accused of masterminding the theft of £ 106 mm from a Brazilian banker. The banker was conned into believing that he was dealing with the governor of Nigeria's central bank, with the money being used to finance the building of a new airport. Banco Noroeste, of Sao Paulo, collapsed as a result of the scam.
Sani Abacha, the former Nigerian president, built up a fortune of about £ 1.5 bn during one of the most repressive and brutal regimes in his country's history. Banks in London and Zurich have been approached to return the money.

Source: Timesonline
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