Tuesday, November 18, 2014 1:46 pm
Nnamdi Felix / Abuja
The current dwindling global crude oil prices and its attendant pressure on the economy of oil producing countries may have informed a renewed step by Nigerian government to take the battle against crude oil theft to the doorsteps of suspected international organizations said to the beneficiaries of Nigeria’s stolen crude.
President Goodluck Jonathan recently inaugurated an inter-departmental task force made up of representatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Nigerian Navy, Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission; ICPC, Defence Intelligence Agency, State Security Services; SSS, National Intelligence Agency; NIA, among others with the mandate to unravel the networks created by suspected persons and international organizations to aid crude oil theft in Nigeria.
Findings indicate that the new measures being taken by Nigerian government to stem the tide of crude oil theft may not be unconnected with a late 2013 report by analysts at Chatham House; the Royal Institute of International Affairs, an independent policy institute based in London which looked at engagement options for foreign governments in relation to other measures to stem the tide of crude oil theft in Nigeria.
It is reported that crude oil stolen from Nigeria find their ways to the United States of America, several West African countries, including Ghana, Ivory Coast as well as countries like Brazil, China, Singapore, Thailand, Italy, Indonesia, Trinidad and Tobago, where they are either refined or transported to waiting vessels. Operators of these criminal rings are being investigated together with banks and other financial institutions linked with then.
The interdepartmental task force members were, amongst other things, mandated to investigate the possible role of commodities traders in the nation’s oil theft. They are to identify the main nationalities involved politically at higher levels of trading of stolen crude and study the operations of suspected refineries. Furthermore, the team is mandated to look into the blending and storage facilities for refining oil and investigate all links between oil theft and fuel oil trading.
Investigations further revealed that following federal government’s mutual legal assistance request to the Swiss government during the recent probe on companies involved in fuel subsidy scams, information received from Swiss authorities indicate that two Swiss based companies, Gunvor Group Limited and Vitol Group; world’s largest oil trader, are being investigated in connection with fuel subsidy scams and crude oil theft in Nigeria.
Gunvor, the fifth- largest independent oil trader in the world which is said to be closely linked to high political players in Russia and run by Torbjorn Tornquist and Seth Thomas Pietras, had been under scrutiny by the anti graft agency over suspicious roles it allegedly played in the fuel subsidy scam.
Also being investigated by Nigerian government on suspected complicity in crude oil theft is Pedro De Almeida, a crude oil trader and former co owner of Nigeria based oil company, Addax Petroleum, which had been acquired by Chinese group, Sinopel, in 2009.
The Chinese group acquired Addax Petroleum at the sum of $7.3 billion.
Flowing from the recommendations made by the Chatham House analysts, the newly inaugurated interdepartmental task force is to beam their search light on how suspected crude oil thieves pay for large capital expenses, especially ships used in evacuating the stolen crude and look at the use of bulk cash smuggling by suspected oil thieves, to conceal oil theft proceeds and the banks used to launder these proceeds.
They are also expected to unravel the profiles of the facilitators used by suspected crude oil thieves to move proceeds of the crime and secure data on who charters, insures and issues letters of credit linked to ships carrying stolen crude oil.