Detectives are probing how $20million was wired into the accounts of shell companies and fronts of some former officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).

The cash, which is believed to be a bribe, is being traced by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The anti-graft commission is also looking into the operation of a firm which had been indicted by Switzerland over the bribe.

The affected company was fined 1million Swiss Francs by a Switzerland court, which also ordered it to pay back 36 million Swiss Francs described as illegal profits.

No fewer than 20 former NPA top shots may be interrogated over the deal.

Besides, there is pressure on the government to suspend business or contractual obligation with the indicted firm for a hitch-free probe by the anti-graft agency.

The scam predates the appointment of NPA Managing Director Hajiya Hadiza Bala Usman.

EFCC detectives have commenced investigation into the bribery scandal.

“So far, we are looking into the accounts of 10 suspects and about five firms which were implicated in the deal.

“We have been able to discover that the indicted firm had been entrenched in the system in the last 10 to 12 years with some contract procedure waivers linked to it,” a source said, adding: “It is a big bribery scandal with international network. We will unravel all the perpetrators and beneficiaries.”

The EFCC plans to collaborate with the Swiss authorities in getting to the root of “this huge bribery”. We are hopeful of retrieving all relevant documents.

“The good thing is that the Swiss government has always shown understanding by cooperating with the Federal Government.” The Swiss government had returned more than $650million Abacha loot to the Federal Government.

The source said the latest dimension on the scandal made it necessary for the EFCC to probe the implicated company.

“With the leg work done by our team, the $20million was not consultancy fees as being claimed by some of the highly-placed Nigerians.

Another source gave an insight into the role played by the administration of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan in cooperating with the Swiss authorities.

The source said: “The Swiss authorities, through the Office of The Attorney-General, Department of International Affairs, on May 2, 2012 implicated some Nigerians in the $20million scandal alongside a firm.

“The EFCC was then asked to look at the issues involved and the outcome of the agency’s findings was sent to Felix Reinmann, the Swiss Federal Attorney.”

The source said a letter by a former Attorney- General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), revealed the steps taken by the Federal Government.

The letter said: “I refer to your letter dated 2nd May 2012, wherein you forwarded a Mutual Legal Assistance request to Nigeria on the above subject matter. The request was brought pursuant to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and the International Law

Principle of Reciprocity.

“The documents on further findings of the executing competent authority, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission revealed that the money was paid as consultancy fee to the various recipients.

“The said documents are herein forwarded to you verbatim.

“Accept please, the assurances of my highest consideration and esteemed regards.”

A source in NPA said:  “We have referred the case to our Legal Unit for advice on what to do on the firm and the indicted former staff of NPA.

“We are being careful in seeking legal advice because the contract the company signed was through the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

“We need to look into all contractual documents to avoid running the country into another crisis. This advice will guide us in determining what to do with the company.

“As for our former employees, I think about 20, we also need legal advice on whether or not within our own mandate we can take action.

“So, we are trying to follow due process. This is without prejudice to the investigation by the appropriate regulatory authority.”

There has been pressure on the government to stop any transaction or contractual obligation with the firm.

A government source said: “The Presidency has been receiving representation on the need to suspend business or contractual obligation with the firm.

“This is left to President Muhammadu Buhari and his team to determine.”

The French company VINCI is one of its main shareholders.

On June 14, the Managing Director of the agency, Hadiza Bala Usman, told PREMIUMTIMES  that apart from being “deeply embarrassing” to the NPA, the indictment was particularly worrisome.

She said: “It is a development we are deeply worried about because it relates to the integrity of our agency and process.

“We are reviewing the indictment and we will call for a full-scale investigation as it relates to companies and individuals in Nigeria said to have been involved. “This corruption revelation is a helpful development.”

Port in Lagos

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