Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Swiss Prosecutors Contact Oil Traders in Nigeria Fuel Scam Probe

Swiss prosecutors contacted commodity traders including Gunvor Group Ltd. and Vitol Group as they assist a Nigerian investigation of an alleged multi-billion dollar scam over subsidies for oil-product imports.

Gunvor, the fifth-largest independent oil trader, said the firm was notified in June by Switzerland’s attorney general that it was assisting a probe by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission of fraud involving local fuel importers.

“The Swiss authorities have requested from Gunvor assistance in gaining understanding about product trading in Nigeria,” Seth Pietras, a Geneva-based spokesman for the commodity trader, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Nigeria, Africa’s largest crude producer, subsidizes local companies to import about 70 percent of the nation’s gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products as aging and inefficient refineries can’t meet demand. Fraudulent payments related to subsidized fuel imports are estimated to cost the continent’s biggest economy as much as $7 billion a year, according to a 2012 report by Nigeria’s Parliament.

The Swiss arm of the investigation is being handled by the Geneva prosecutor’s office, said spokesman Henri Della Casa.

“The Geneva prosecutor has acknowledged Nigeria’s request for assistance and is moving forward with an investigation,” Della Casa said by phone.

Confidential Conversations

Vitol Group, the world’s largest oil trader, has also been contacted by Swiss authorities regarding product imports to Nigeria, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

“Conversations with government authorities are confidential,” Fabian Gmuender, a spokesman for Amsterdam-registered Vitol, which has major trading operations in London and Geneva, said in an e-mailed statement. “Vitol cooperates with all relevant authorities in all jurisdictions in which we operate.”

The system of fuel-import subsidies, which are supposed to be passed on to consumers, is opaque and rife with “endemic corruption,” according to the April 2012 Nigerian parliamentary report. Two months later, President Goodluck Jonathan dismissed the head of Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. after the report said the state oil company, the country’s biggest gasoline importer, received illegal fuel-subsidy payments.

Wilson Uwujaren, a spokesman for Nigeria’s Abuja-based Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, didn’t respond to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

Lamido Sanusi, former Governor of Nigeria’s central bank, was suspended by Jonathan in February after saying that as much as $20 billion of state oil receipts may be missing.

Gunvor has provided documentation to the Swiss prosecutor since first being contacted on the matter five months ago, said Pietras.

Cyprus-based Gunvor is “happy to comply,” said Pietras, adding that no raids have taken place at the trading house’s Geneva offices.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andy Hoffman in Geneva at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at Dylan Griffiths, Alex Devine

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