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US: Three Face Trial For Bribing Nigerian Customs

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The Securities and Exchange Commission of the United States of America has charged three oil services executives with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by participating in a bribery scheme to obtain illicit permits for oil rigs in Nigeria in order to retain business under lucrative drilling contracts.

The charge, done on February 24, is posted on the website of the Security and Exchange Commission of the United States of America.

The SEC alleges that former Noble Corporation CEO, Mark A. Jackson, along with James J. Ruehlen, who is the current Director and Division Manager of Noble’s subsidiary in Nigeria, bribed customs officials to process false paperwork purporting to show the export and re-import of oil rigs, when in fact the rigs never moved.

The scheme was designed to save Noble Corporation from losing business and incurring significant costs associated with exporting rigs from Nigeria and then re-importing them under new permits.

Bribes were paid through a customs agent for Noble’s Nigerian subsidiary with Jackson and Ruehlen’s approval.

The SEC separately charged Thomas F. O’Rourke, who was a former controller and head of internal audit at Noble.

The SEC alleges that O’Rourke helped approve the bribe payments and allowed the bribes to be booked improperly as legitimate operating expenses for the company.

O’Rourke agreed to settle the SEC’s charges and pay a penalty.

“These executives knowingly authorised and paid foreign officials to process false documents, and they consciously concealed the scheme from Noble’s audit committee,” said Gerald Hodgkins, Associate Director in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

“When executives bribe government officials overseas, their misconduct puts their companies in legal peril and damages the integrity of foreign markets and the reputation of US companies abroad.”

Noble Corporation was charged with FCPA violations as part of a sweep of the oil services industry in late 2010.

The company cooperated with investigators and agreed to pay more than $8 million to settle civil and criminal cases.

According to the SEC’s complaint against Jackson and Ruehlen filed in US District Court for the Southern District of Texas, the executives who perpetrated the scheme worked at Noble Corporation and its Nigerian subsidiary Noble Drilling (Nigeria) Limited, whose rigs operated in Nigeria on the basis of temporary import permits granted by the Nigeria Customs Service.

These temporary permits allowed the rigs to be in the country for a one-year period.

NCS had the discretion to grant up to three extensions lasting six months each, after which the rigs were required to be exported and re-imported under a new temporary permit or be permanently imported with the payment of sizeable duties.

The SEC alleges that Jackson and Ruehlen had a role in arranging, facilitating, approving, making, or concealing the bribe payments to induce Nigerian customs officials to grant new temporary permits illegally and favorably exercise or abuse their discretion to grant permit extensions.

Together, Jackson and Ruehlen participated in paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to obtain about 11 illicit permits and 29 permit extensions.

Jackson approved the bribe payments and concealed the payments from Noble’s audit committee and auditors.

Ruehlen prepared false documents, sought approval for the bribes, and processed and paid the bribes.

The SEC’s complaint against Jackson and Ruehlen alleges they directly violated the anti-bribery provisions of Section 30A of the Securities Exchange Act and the internal controls and false records provisions at Section 13(b)(5) and Rule 13b2-1 of the Exchange Act.

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Nigeria’s Revenue-To-GDP Ratio Lowest, Private Sector Choking – World Bank

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Nigeria’s revenue-to-Gross Domestic Product ratio, which fell to between five and six per cent last year, is the lowest in the world, the World Bank said on Monday.
The Country Director for Nigeria, World Bank, Dr Shubham Chaudhuri, said this during a panel session at a virtual public sector seminar with the theme ‘Nigeria in challenging times: imperatives for a cohesive national development agenda’ organised by the Lagos Business School.
Chaudhuri, who stressed the need for private investment for the country to realise its potential, said the private sector in the country ‘is struggling to breathe’.
“In Nigeria, I think the basic economic agenda is about diversification away from oil because oil has really been like resource curse for Nigeria on multiple dimensions,” he said.
He noted the aspiration of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by the end of the decade.
He said, “Nigeria is a country with tremendous potential. If you look at the synopsis for this panel, it suggests that Nigeria is at a critical juncture – almost at the moment of crisis.
“Despite all of that, Nigeria is still the largest economy in Africa. So, just think about the potential that Nigeria has because of its natural resources, but more than that, because of its dynamism and all of its population. Nigerians are more entrepreneurial by nature.
“No country has become prosperous and realised its potential, eliminated poverty without doing two simple things: investing in its people, and unleashing the power of the private sector in creating jobs by investing and growing business. And then, of course, the basic function of the state is to provide security and law and order.”
According to Chaudhuri, to invest in people entails basic services, basic education, primary healthcare and nutrition, among others.
He said, “On this, Nigeria at the moment ranks sixth from the bottom in terms of the human capital index that we produce every year.
“So, obviously, there is a huge agenda in terms of investing in human capital. Nigeria spends more on PMS (premium motor spirit) subsidy than it does on primary healthcare in a year, and we know who the PMS subsidy is benefitting.”
He indicated that despite the country’s huge potential to attract private capital, the non-oil part of the economy ‘is not growing that robustly and certainly not generating revenues that the government needs’.
Chaudhuri said, “So, we see as priorities investments in human capital. But for that, one needs revenues. And there again, Nigeria unfortunately has the distinction of having about the lowest revenue-to-GDP ratio in the world.
 ”The standard rule of thumb is that for government to provide the basic services and law and order, it needs between 15 to 20 per cent of GDP as being revenue, and this will be both at the federal and state levels combined.
“In Nigeria, it was eight per cent in 2019. In 2020, in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis and with the fall in oil prices, that went down to about between five and six per cent.
“So, domestic revenue mobilisation is huge. And then the third is enabling the space for private investment. You have to fix the power problem. Power is like the oxygen of an economy. In Nigeria, the private sector is struggling to breathe.”

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CBN Stops Sale Of Forex To BDCs

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The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as announced immediate discontinuation of sale of Foreign Exchange (forex) to Bureau de Change (BDC) operators in the country.
Mr Godwin Emefiele, the CBN Governor , made this announcement yesterday, while presenting a communique from the apex bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting in Abuja.
Emefiele said that the decision was informed by the unwholesome business practices of the BDCs, which he said had continued to put enormous pressure on the Naira.
He  said ,  henceforth,  the apex bank would sell forex to deserving Nigerians through the commercial banks.
“ The BDCs were regulated to sell a maximum of 5000  dollars per day,  but CBN observed that they have since been flouting that regulation and selling millions of dollars per day.
“The CBN also observed that the BDCs aid illicit financial flows and other financial  crimes.  The bank has thus, decided to discontinue the sale of forex to the BDCs with immediate effect.
“We shall, henceforth,  channel all forex allocation through the commercial banks,” he said.
He urged the commercial banks to ensure that every deserving customer got their forex demand,  adding that any bank found circumventing  the new system would be sanctioned.
“Once a customer presents all required documentation to purchase forex, the commercial banks should ensure they get the forex.
“Any customer that is denied should contact the CBN on 0700385526 or through the email- cbd@cbn.gov.ng “ he said.
The Tide source reports that stakeholders have been calling on the CBN and its MPC to take urgent steps to halt unending depreciation of the Naira.
Recently,  a past President of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN),  Mr Okechukwu Unegbu,  urged the MPC to focus on policy decisions that would curb rising inflation and stabilise the Naira.

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RSG To Privatise Songhai, Fish Farms

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There are strong indications that the Rivers State Government has concluded plans to privatise the moribund Songhai Farm in Tai and Fish Farm in Buguma.
The State Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Amb. Desmond Akawor, gave this indication while appearing in a phone-in radio programme organised by Silverbird Communications in Port Harcourt at the weekend.
He explained that the previous administration in the state failed to put in place a sustainability programme for these farms, hence they went moribund.
In order to reverse the situation, he said that the present administration was now contemplating a rehabilitation scheme to be driven by a privatisation policy to enable those investments come on stream.
He said the scheme had reached an advanced stage and is to executed by the State Ministry of Agriculture.
On the issue of job creation, Akawor said the administration of Chief Nyesom Wike was using the various construction projects around the state to empower the youths.
He explained that the government had floated a special scholarship scheme in Law and Medical Sciences to create opportunities for young people in various professions.
He called on the opposition to desist from de-marketing the state through propaganda as it’s capable of scaring investors away from the state.
Akawor insisted that the Wike led administration has provided an enabling environment for businesses to thrive through infrastructure and improved security.

By: Kevin Nengia

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