Sunday, November 28, 2010

British Investigators Beams their searchlight on SOLUDO

The former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Chukwuma Soludo, is under the radar of British crime investigators who want to understand his role in the N29 billion polymer banknote contract issued during his tenure.

Between 2006 and 2009, the Central Bank carried out currency reforms that saw the introduction of polymer bank notes to replace the paper notes of the country’s lower denominations. In late 2009, media reports alleged that top CBN officials had received bribes in order to grant an Australian company, Securency International Pty Ltd, the contract which saw the Australian company supplying Nigeria with at least 1.9 billion pieces of the polymer substrate.

The contract is now the subject of a multi-national investigation straddling Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia, the UK and Nigeria, from which about N3.5 billion was paid out in slush fund. Investigators believe that millions out of the amount were paid to top Nigerian politicians and bank officials.

Investigating the Scandal

International sources who spoke to NEXT in confidence, said that feelers from the on-going investigations by the British Serious Fraud Office (SFO) point to the fact that Mr. Soludo has become a subject of their investigations. NEXT had earlier reported that the former bank chief directed contract processes in the CBN as well as the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting PLC, of which the CBN has a 77% shareholding.

“SFO is investigating the Nigerian deal in the UK. Soludo may be tied to a lot of those Nigerian deals which explains why the SFO may be investigating him,” our source said.

The SFO’s spokesperson in an email exchange with NEXT however declined to confirm or refute the claims.

“Without wishing to be unhelpful, I am unable to provide any further details. The investigation is ongoing. For guidance; it is not SFO policy to confirm or deny the names of suspects in its investigations,” Katie Winstanley of the SFO said. Ms. Winstanley further said that the SFO has arrested at least five people so far in connection with the on-going investigation.

A source within the EFCC, who asked not to be named, however confirmed that the SFO had indeed contacted the Nigerian anti-graft agency in relation to the investigations involving Mr. Soludo.

“There may be something like that. I know that there has been intelligence exchange between the EFCC and the SFO concerning this matter. It is an on-going investigation which was not initiated by the EFCC,” our source said.

In the months following the media reports, several anti-corruption agencies within and outside Nigeria have launched investigations into the scandal. In Nigeria, the initial enthusiasm showed by the Nigerian Police, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the National Assembly has since waned. None of the Nigerian investigations have yielded any results.

Efforts to get obtain reactions from the official spokesmen for the EFCC and the CBN were unfruitful.

Sharing the contract commissions

Documents obtained by NEXT show that Securency, whose parent company is the Reserve Bank of Australia, paid about $23 million dollars in suspect commissions to a company domiciled in a tax haven, Seychelles. The company, SPT Limited, further commissioned two other agents to secure the Nigerian contracts.

The Australian media, championed by The Age, is claiming that the agents chosen had close links with top government and CBN officials. One of the agents, Joseph Raad, who was appointed as a ‘confidential sub-agent’ by SPT LTD, is Iceland’s honorary Consul General to Nigeria. SPT, which stood to gain 12% of all contract deals secured from Nigeria, pledged to pay its agents between 4.5-5% of the contracts worth.

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