By SaharaReporters, New York
Officers of the Nigeria police today quizzed oil business magnate, Femi Otedola, in Abuja regarding his role in a $600,000 bribe scandal that is the latest twist in the fuel subsidy scam that has riveted Nigerians since late last year.
Mr. Otedola is a major figure in the reported bribery of Farouk Lawan, the chairman of the House of Representatives’ committee probing the $6.8 billion fuel subsidy fraud. The owner of Zenon Oil, Otedola is one of the top players in Nigeria’s sleaze-ridden fuel import business.
Our sources at police headquarters disclosed that Ali Ahmadu, the Commissioner of Police in charge of the Special Investigation Unit, interrogated Mr. Otedola for several hours. The source also said that the police took Mr. Otedola’s statement.
Mr. Otedola, who has been embroiled in the last few days in a bribery dispute with Mr. Lawan, chairman of an ad hoc committee on fuel subsidy, gave what a police source described as “a detailed explanation” of the transactions between him and Mr. Lawan.
Another police source confirmed to SaharaReporters that Mr. Lawan reported to the police that Mr. Otedola had offered him a huge bribe, but also revealed that the chair of the legislative committee on fuel subsidy rebuffed several entreaties by the police to hand over the cash as exhibit money.
The police source also claimed that their investigations so far had established that Mr. Lawan initiated the contact with Mr. Otedola and demanded a bribe in exchange for removing two of Otedola’s firms from adverse reports that would beam an investigative searchlight on the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars in oil subsidy funds.
The police also confirmed that the SSS worked with Mr. Otedola to videotape the bribe and also snooped on several phone conversation between the Zenon executive and the legislator.
Police sources said that they believed Mr. Farouk contacted them to report that he was in possession of bribe money only after he realized that the currencies were marked. “I think he did it to save face,” said one police source.
The latest corruption saga has drawn international attention. A diplomat from the European Union told SaharaReporters that the scandal “poses yet another test for President Goodluck Jonathan’s much avowed commitment to tackle corruption.” The diplomat added that Mr. Jonathan “has an opportunity to act decisively.”
Mr. Otedola is one of a few businessmen selected by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and favored with extraordinary and questionable patronage that brought them stupendous wealth overnight. Many critics have questioned his meteoric rise from relative obscurity to the top echelon of Nigeria’s moneyed class. Like other handpicked fuel marketers, his role in the massive over-invoicing for fuel imports has raised eyebrows.
Reliable sources within the Central Bank and the Presidency told SaharaReporters that more than 40% of imported fuel and other petroleum products did not leave the countries from which the fraudulent oil importers purportedly bought the products.
Several of the sources implicated Mr. Jonathan in the scam. “Between 20-30% of the proceeds of phantom oil subsidy claims went to the president and [Oil Minister] Diezani Alison-Madueke,” said one source. A member of the House of Representatives disclosed that Ms. Alison-Madueke handed out huge bribes to the House leadership to avert any discussion of her removal during floor debates of the Lawan committee’s report on fuel subsidy.