Some encouraging news out of Nigeria today.
According to Bloomberg, prosecutors charged Adeyanju Bodunde, once a senior aide to former President Olusegun Obasanjoe, with six counts of money laundering at the federal high court in the capital, Abuja. The charges are connected to alleged bribes paid by former Halliburton Co. unit KBR Inc., French engineering firm Technip S.A and others in connection with a joint-venture to build LNG facilities on Bonny Island, Nigeria.
Bodunde pleaded not guilty and was released on bail. His next court date is set for December 16.
What’s particularly encouraging about this news is the high-level of the former official.
The Bonny Island deal has been under investigation for 10 years. In connection with the joint venture, the U.S. has charged three companies and several individuals with Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations. Most recently, Italian energy firm ENI, S.p.A. and its former Dutch subsidiary Snamprogetti Netherlands B.V agreed to pay $365 million to settle FCPA charges stemming from the deal.
According the U.S. government’s criminal information against Technip, agents of the joint venture paid bribes to “high-level Nigerian government officials” in the executive branch and in other agencies.
Charges brought against bribe-taking officials in their home countries outside the West are rare. What’s more, they are usually limited in nature and scope. One in-house counsel in the oil and gas industry told me recently that he expected the Nigerians to bring charges related to the Bonny Island deal, but that he feared they would be too insufficient to affect any real reform.
“They’ll fire one low-level official, and that’ll be it,” he said.
But it appears that Nigeria might be bucking the trend. According to the Associated Press, more charges may be on there way:
A prosecutor alleged Adeyanju Bodunde was just member in a “ring” of others surrounding the former leader of Africa’s most populous nation, hinting that more charges may come in the case involving [KBR].
Of course, given Nigeria’s history of rampant corruption, it’s probably wise to wait and see how this one plays. Again, from the AP:
The charges against Bodunde came after Nigerian officials promised their own investigation into the Halliburton subsidiary’s actions here.
Several national anti-graft agencies have promised to aggressively pursue those accepting bribes but corruption still permeates all levels of Nigeria’s government, which is flush with oil revenues. Trials against top politicians and state governors drag on with no end in sight in the country’s plodding court system.