The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) says it is taking legal action against a Mexican international oil firm which it accused of being a crime syndicate, SAMANO SA DE CV, and its officials over attempts to swindle the Nigerian government of over $125 million.
Counsel to the NNPC, Afe Babalola & Co., said in a statement on Thursday in Abuja that the management of the national oil company has already initiated plans to seek redress “for the injury to the Corporation and its officials through series of falsehoods peddled by SAMANO and its agents”.
Last Sunday, reports circulated about how some Nigerian government officials and NNPC staff allegedly sold about 48 million barrels of stolen Nigeria crude oil and shared the proceeds.
The report quoted contents of a recent correspondence to NNPC by the law firm of Messrs. Lords & Temple claiming to be Solicitors to SAMANO SA DE CV.
In the letter signed by Gboyega Oyewole, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the law firm said its client was accusing the Nigerian government officials and NNPC of reneging on an agreement to pay it 5 per cent of ‘whistleblower compensation’ for information furnished them over an oil deal.
Mr Oyewole made reference to discussions between SAMANO SA DE CV and the officials involved in 2015 over an information about 48 million barrels of Nigerian Bonny Light Crude Oil allegedly stolen from Nigeria and stored in various ports and terminals in the People’s Republic of China.
The law firm said SAMANO, led by its top officials, Messrs Marco Ramirez Ramirez and Jose Salazar Tinajero, had contacted the senior officials of the Nigeria government with an offer to purchase the alleged stolen oil apparently abandoned by some unknown persons.
Although they claimed the officials used the information provided, which led to the sale of the crude oil, SAMANO said it was neither carried along in the sharing of the proceeds from the sale, nor were they paid the agreed 5 per cent whistleblower compensation.
However, the NNPC through its lawyers, said not only were the reports replete with falsehoods, they were calculated attempts by SAMANO, working in concert with its local and international agents, to intimidate, blackmail and extort money from the Nigerian government and NNPC.
In its reaction to the series of reports, the NNPC said SAMANO first contacted the Nigerian government officials sometime in 2015 to claim that it was approached by an unnamed group in the People’s Republic of China to buy 48 million barrels of Nigerian crude oil they believed were stolen from Nigeria.
The NNPC said SAMANO sought the permission of the Nigerian government to purchase the stolen crude it alleged was shipped to China before the inception of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in 2015.
Shortly thereafter, the NNPC said SAMANO made a U-turn to say it was no more interested in buying the crude oil as it was only obliging the federal government with the information as its support to the Buhari administration’s fight against corruption.
Skeptical about the possibility of shipping about 48 million barrels of crude oil from Nigeria to China without any record or trace, in view of the tedious procedures involved in international crude oil market handling and export operations, the NNPC said it asked for time to confirm the information.
“For context, as of 2015, the daily production of crude oil in Nigeria was below 1.6 million barrels. Therefore, 48 million barrels of crude oil would have been the total production capacity of the country for a whole month.
“It was and remains simply impossible for one-month crude oil production for the entire country to disappear without any record or trace from the shores of the country,” the NNPC said.
As of the time the report was made, and considering that China is one of the most regulated economies in the world, the NNPC said the export of crude oil from Nigeria to China was exclusively undertaken by four known companies approved under the control, ownership, and management of the Chinese government.
In the circumstance, the NNPC said it would have been impossible to transport such a huge volume of crude oil from Nigeria to China without the active involvement of those companies.
Besides, the NNPC argued that it would have made little economic sense to store that huge volume of crude oil in China for such a period in view of especially the attendant significant storage costs.
Also, the NNPC said the Chinese government, through its officials, in response to the allegations by SAMANO, said at the time at different fora, including the United Nations General Assembly that there was no stolen Nigerian crude oil stored in any port or terminal or storage facility in its domain.
The NNPC said a Presidential Committee on Recovery of Stolen Nigerian Crude Oil was set up in response to claims by several companies, including SAMANO over alleged stolen Nigerian crude oil stored in China.
Despite the request for SAMANO to furnish the committee with evidence to proof its allegations to enable it investigate and verify its claim, the NNPC said the company “refused, neglected or failed to provide the committee with any cogent and verifiable evidence in support of its allegations”.
Notwithstanding the failure of SAMANO to produce verifiable evidence in support of its allegations, the NNPC said relevant officials were mandated to visit China to further investigate SAMANO’s claims.
During this fact-finding trip to China, the NNPC said the team discovered that SAMANO’s claims were false as there were no trace of any stolen Nigerian crude oil in any port, terminal or storage facility in China.
Also, the team discovered that all the documents previously presented by SAMANO in support of its claims were fake. A report of this finding was reportedly issued by the committee to the Nigerian president.
Consequently, the federal government promptly terminated all communications with SAMANO and its agents, as it became apparent that its claims were a hoax.
Realising that the federal government was no longer interested in the non-existent stolen crude, the NNPC said SAMANO resorted to “cheap blackmail and intimidation of key officials of the government, including the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mele Kyari”.
Mr Kyari was then the Group General Manager in charge of the Crude Oil Marketing Department of the NNPC.
The NNPC said SAMANO threatened to publicise allegations that the non-existent crude had been recovered, sold and its proceeds looted by senior government officials and other personalities, when in reality it knew this was absolute falsehood.
Again, the NNPC said SAMANO made several demands, including the payment of about $125 million by the government officials to prevent it from disclosing this false information to the public.
Failure to realise its demands, the NNPC said, SAMANO resorted to the “harassment and embarrassment of the Nigerian government on international media.”
The group also took its campaign of calumny to several international institutions like the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) all in a calculated bid to blackmail the Nigerian government and NNPC into paying it a significant amount of money as compensation,” the NNPC said.
As a result of the constant harassment, the NNPC said it was constrained to make a formal report to the State Security Service (SSS) and the Nigerian police, while other victims petitioned the Attorney-General of the Federation.
Following investigations by both the police and SSS, during which confessional statement were received from SAMANO agents, the NNPC said “the government established allegations of conspiracy, forgery, obtaining money by false pretence, blackmail and extortion as well as some fraudulent activities against agents of SAMANO, Messrs Ramirez and Salazar”.
During its investigation, the NNPC said the Nigerian police discovered that SAMANO was part of a notorious crime syndicate “that habitually intimidates, blackmails, and defrauds government officials and other high-profile persons around the world.”
For instance, the NNPC said it was discovered that Mr Ramirez was indicted by the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Texas as the mastermind of a scheme leading to the loss of several millions of dollars through various mail and wire frauds between 2010 and 2013.
In addition, the NNPC said the police became aware that Mr Ramirez fled the United States of America and settled in Nigeria for a period where he continued his criminal activities in conjunction with SAMANO and its Managing Director.
“There is a subsisting warrant issued by the United States Government for the arrest of Mr Ramirez. His wife has been convicted in the United States for her role in a visa lottery scam he masterminded.
“NNPC is aware that this investigation led to the filing of Charge No.: FCT/HC/BU/CR/134/2019 between Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Marco Antonio Ramirez & 4 Others at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Some of the offences in the charge are criminal conspiracy, forgery, extortion and attempt to obtain money by false pretence.
“NNPC also understands that Mr Ramirez and his cohorts are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for other unrelated offences at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in Charge No: FCT/HC/CR/147/2016 and the Federal High Court, Lagos in Charge No: ID/2763/2016.
“NNPC is convinced that the chameleonic posture of SAMANO as a potential buyer, then gratuitous informant and subsequently a whistle-blower demonstrates its desperation to hoodwink and defraud the Federal Republic of Nigeria by all means,” the NNPC said.
False compensation claims
The NNPC said claims by SAMANO in a recent correspondence demanding compensation for supplying information on the missing crude oil pursuant to the federal government’s Whistleblower Policy was false.
While the information about the transaction, which formed the basis of SAMANO’s, claim was furnished in 2015, the NNPC noted that the policy of the federal government only commenced in December 2016.
Again, the NNPC said SAMANO also failed to follow due process or establish that the information it allegedly provided led to any recovery.
It also failed to show that the information was disseminated through the proper channel – the Federal Ministry of Finance online portal or in writing to the Federal Ministry of Finance or the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit Unit.
The NNPC said SAMANO’s actions contravened the laid down policy of the government on whistleblowing, as it was not qualified under this policy, particularly as no benefit was derived from the falsehood it provided at the time.
It urged the public to disregard the publications sponsored by SAMANO. The NNPC described the allegations as “diversionary tactics in furtherance of the scheme to fleece Nigeria”.
“SAMANO’s attempt to shift attention from the ongoing criminal charges against its Managing Director and agents will not fly. NNPC has instructed its counsel to take appropriate legal actions against SAMANO and its officers for the injury done to the corporation and its officials by the falsehoods peddled by SAMANO and its agents,” the NNPC said.