Nigerian oil theft: FG, US probe Ghana, Europe’s connection

By: Charles Okonji August 28,2014

Strong indications have emerged that the Federal Government and the United States have launched full investigation into smuggling of the Nigerian crude oil through Saltpond platform in Gbana.

Information gathered revealed that several thousands of barrels, which were supposedly pilfered from Nigeria, made their way to global markets through Saltpond oil facility, which is owned by Ghana and Lushann International Energy Corporation (LIEC), a Houston-based firm.

It was learnt that about 80 per cent of Nigeria’s stolen oil was being shipped out of the country in small tankers to the platform, where the oil was being shipped in large quantities to Europe in recent months.

The Wall Street Journal quoted United States officials as saying that Washington was probing Saltpond as part of the broader enquiry into how Nigeria’s crude oil was being stolen and exported by local and international syndicates.

According to U.S officials, “tankers often will come twice a week to load stolen oil in Nigeria and will go abroad.”

General Manager of Petro-Marine Consult Limited, which specializes in ship cargo inspections and is based in Tema, Ghana, Mr. Emmanuel Oware, said small vessels that loaded “unofficial” oil from the Niger Delta frequently discharged at Saltpond, where it would be mixed with Ghanaian oil.

Oware, who said he inspected a trans-shipment at Saltpond last year, said: “It comes from Nigeria, but it gets a certificate of Ghana origin. The oil is then transferred to larger tankers.”

According to Wall Street Journal, a vessel called “Akshay,” which was once seized for oil smuggling, had made frequent stops at Saltpond.

The Akshay, a tanker co-owned by Ajay Bhatia, an Indian national who was sentenced by a Nigerian court in May in absentia to 15 years in jail for oil theft, was said to have travelled three times between Nigeria and Saltpond in the four months before the ship’s seizure by the Nigerian Navy, for allegedly carrying stolen crude, in November 2012, according to shipping tracker service IHS Fairplay.

LIEC, which is a part owner of the Saltpond platform, was also said not to have disputed that some of the oil loaded onto tankers came from Nigeria, claiming that the company purchased the crude legally from Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which has the primary responsibility for cracking down on oil smuggling.

The company’s President, Quincy Sintim, while insisting that EFCC sold crude that it seized in its pursuit of oil theft to LIEC, said: “The only crude we take from Nigeria has been seized by the government. We have invoices that we pay to EFCC in Nigeria.”

The EFCC spokesman, Head of Media and Publicity, Wilson Uwujaren, who reacted to this allegation in a statement, vehemently denied any form of involvement in the Saltpond platform.

Uwujaren said: “EFCC is not an oil marketing company and could not have issued any invoice to any oil trader to lift confiscated crude oil from Nigeria.”

Executive Director of Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), a civil society watchdog against oil theft in Nigeria, which is currently campaigning for an end to oil swaps and oil theft in the country, a project being supported by FOSTER, Mr. David Ugolor, lamented the ugly development.

Ugolor said: “The issue of oil theft in Nigeria has assumed a frightening dimension over the years and this is not only to our government, but to Civil Society in Nigeria and we welcome the United States’ investigations into the crude oil shipments from Saltpond allegedly by oil thieves.

“We call on both the Nigerian and Ghanaian governments to lend their support to the United States’ investigators with a view to getting to the bottom of the matter and revealing all those behind the dirty deals with clear evidence.

“We urge the US investigators to be more circumspect in their investigations by ensuring that they hold enough evidence before leaking such reports to the media, because the reputation of any organization mentioned in the investigation could be seriously damaged, not only in Nigeria but internationally.

“We commend the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for promptly refuting the allegation, which was published in the Wall Street Journal because organizations and partners of EFCC were disturbed with the report.

“We agree with the EFCC that criminally-minded elements could forge documents to unduly implicate the EFCC. What we expected from the US investigators was a double-check with the EFCC on the so-called receipts dubiously prepared by the oil thieves before hitting the newsstand with their report.

“It is for this reason that we are calling on the US investigators to be more thorough in their investigations to unmask the real culprits who are the barons and patrons of the Saltpond platform.

“The Ghanaian and Nigerian governments must take urgent steps to dismantle the Saltpond and other such platforms in the sub-region using the instrumentality of established rules within the Economic Commission for West African States (ECOWAS) treaties against regional economic saboteurs.”