By Kit Chellel
Irish citizen arrested in Nigeria. Two more facing charges
Nigerian prosecutors probe payments through Allied Irish Banks
Nigerian prosecutors are seeking information about funds sent to a government lawyer that were sent through Allied Irish Banks Plc, broadening an international legal dispute between the African country and a company claiming $9.6 billion for a failed contract.
Nigeria is embroiled in a fight with Process & Industrial Developments over a failed 2010 deal to develop a gas processing plant. Nigeria now alleges the contract was won corruptly and the project was never meant to succeed. P&ID denies any wrongdoing.
The Nigerian anti-corruption agency has expanded its probe into the deal by making formal requests for assistance from Irish law enforcement and the U.K.’s National Crime Agency, Ibrahim Magu, the head of the Nigerian agency, said in an interview in London. He was one of more than a dozen government officials to speak with Bloomberg on Tuesday.
Nigerian prosecutors said they had evidence of two bank transfers totaling $20,000 made by Dublin-based Industrial Consultants (International) Ltd. — part of the P&ID group of companies — to Grace Taiga, a Nigerian government lawyer who oversaw the award of the gas plant contract. The payments, in 2017 and 2018, were made from an Industrial Consultants account at Allied Irish Banks and were purportedly for “medical costs,” Bala Sanga, the lead prosecutor, said in the interview.
Paddy McDonnell, a spokesman for Allied Irish Banks, said the bank did not comment on individual accounts. A spokesperson for P&ID didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest allegations.
Taiga’s lawyer denied that his client had been bribed. “How could there have been a bribe to facilitate the contract that was done in 2010 and now get paid in 2018 or 2017?” Wole Olanipekun, Taiga’s lawyer, said. “It just doesn’t add up.”
The payments, along with Taiga’s email records, showed a “longstanding relationship” between the government official and P&ID founder Michael Quinn, who died in 2015, and his partner Brendan Cahill, Sanga said. Taiga pleaded not guilty last week in Nigerian court to charges of fraud and accepting bribes. She was granted bail in a hearing on Wednesday and is set to stand trial on Oct. 14.
One of the world’s largest lawsuits, the claim pits a tiny Irish-run firm against Africa’s largest economy. P&ID, which has attracted financial backing from hedge fund manager VR Capital Group Ltd., and support from British lawmaker Priti Patel, has won a series of court rulings in London and the U.S. The British Virgin Islands-based firm has said the Nigerian investigation is a “sham” and an attempt to escape its legal obligations. Its lawyers have threatened to start seizing state assets abroad to enforce the award.
After Bloomberg Businessweek published an article about the Irish founders of P&ID and their history of broken contracts and lawsuits, Nigerian investigators intensified their probe. Two former representatives of P&ID pleaded guilty in an Abuja court this week to 11 charges including money laundering.
“We are giving notice to international criminal groups by the vigorous prosecution of the P&ID scandal attempting to cheat Nigeria of billions of dollars,” President Muhammadu Buhari said in an address to the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday.
The latest developments may draw Ireland’s government into the dispute. An Irish citizen who worked for Michael Quinn has been arrested and charged in Nigeria and remains in custody, according to Sanga, the prosecutor. P&ID co-founder Brendan Cahill and Quinn’s son Adam will “in due course be charged,” he said, adding that he would seek the extradition of both men from Ireland to Nigeria. Cahill and Quinn didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.
Nigerian attorney general Abubakar Malami said in the interview that he was considering using the fraud allegations in court as part of its defense. The Nigerian ministers and officials were in the U.K. for a meeting with their legal team. A hearing is scheduled to take place in London on Thursday.
“The enforcement of the $9 billion cannot stand having been based on a foundation that is rooted in fraud, corruption, tax evasion and procedural circumvention” Malami said.
P&ID has said that its position is vindicated by the legal judgments in its favor.
The Nigerian anti-corruption agency’s investigators have uncovered large cash withdrawals from several companies linked to Quinn and Cahill since 2009, in breach of Nigerian money laundering regulations, according to Sanga. The largest withdrawal was for about $700,000 in cash. Investigators haven’t yet been able to trace the recipients of the money, Sanga said.
— With assistance by Ruth Olurounbi, William Clowes, and Joe Light
(Adds comment from Taiga’s lawyer in sixth paragraph.)