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09 December 2019
On 16 August 2019 the High Court of England and Wales granted claimants in an arbitration leave to enforce an award against the Nigerian Ministry of Petroleum Resources. The media attention surrounding the decision prompted the Nigerian government to respond in a manner that has been described as unusual. Given the manner in which the government responded, it could be assumed that it had only just become aware of the award. However, the award was actually delivered on 31 January 2017, more than two years earlier.
The government took several steps, including detaining for two days, without charge, two members of a law firm that had advised the claimant in the arbitration and assisted in the preparation of an expert witness statement by a retired chief justice. In addition, a search warrant was executed on the law firm's offices, but it is unclear whether any material was confiscated by the law enforcement agency under the warrant. The retired chief justice was subjected to extensive questioning at the agency's offices and an uninformed media campaign, which suggested that the provision of the witness statement was criminal and akin to an act of treason. Other persons involved in the preparation of evidence for the claimant, a BVI-registered company, were also 'invited' to talk with the agency.
As a result of this new activity, fraud charges were pursued against the claimant and its Nigerian affiliate on 19 September 2019. Less than 48 hours after the charges were filed:
Such swift proceedings are unheard of in normal circumstances.
It is unusual that arbitral proceedings that commenced in 2012 – in which partial awards on jurisdiction and liability were issued in June 2014 and July 2015, respectively – should, in 2019, become the subject of criminal investigations. What suddenly inclined the Nigerian authorities to commence criminal investigations into matters of which it ought to have been aware at least some seven years prior? One thing is clear: allegations of involvement in fraudulent conduct in matters relating to government contracts in Nigeria should not be unexpected.
For further information on this topic please contact Babajide Oladipo Ogundipe at Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore by telephone (+234 1 462 2502) or email (email@example.com). The Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore website can be accessed at www.sooblaw.com.
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