•Ochei denies involvement in bribery allegation
Omo-Julius Onabu in Asaba with agency report
Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is examining Rolls-Royce in connection with a failed N23 billion independent power project in Delta State, Nigeria, as part of a wider inquiry that also covers Brazil, Indonesia and China.
According to the Financial Times (FT), the SFO in the UK is examining whether Rolls-Royce and its agents were involved in any bribery of government officials up to the year 2013 in connection with energy tenders in the country and a Nigerian company called PSL Engineering & Control, people familiar with the situation said.
PSL acted for Rolls-Royce on projects in Nigeria to supply gas turbines to power plants in the oil states of Bayelsa and Delta, according to PSL’s website.
Rolls-Royce sold its energy business to Siemens of Germany in 2014, after the period under investigation, and it no longer does business with PSL.
A PSL official who answered the phone at the company’s Lagos headquarters said he was not aware of any investigation. He said PSL would deal with emailed questions from the FT, but the company did not respond.
One focus of the SFO investigation is the Delta State Government’s independent power plant (IPP), known as the Oghareki power plant, the FT has learnt. The power plant located in Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State, has cost the state more than $100 million but has never been completed and has been plagued by corruption claims.
The project was awarded in 2009 to Davnotch Nigeria Limited, a company founded by Victor Ochei, a flamboyant former Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly. Ochei’s website describes him as an “uncommonly well-rounded man of letters, experience and character with well-honed leadership skills and a passion for public service”.
Norbert Osodi, Davnotch’s Managing Director, said by email that the company was not aware of the SFO investigation. He said Davnotch had won the Oghareki tender through a proper process, adding that past allegations of corruption against the project were “not credible” and had been mounted by Ochei’s political enemies.
Osodi said there was no conflict of interest between Ochei’s simultaneous holdings of a majority shareholding in Davnotch and his political seat, because the parliamentary position was part-time. Ochei divested his interest in Davnotch in June 2011, when he became House speaker.
When THISDAY contacted Ochei’s personal aide, Nkem Nwosu, he also stated that the former speaker had long severed links with Davnotch.
Nwosu maintained that Ochei ceased to be a director of the company about five years ago, having “resigned from the board even before he became speaker, in accordance with the Code of Conduct Bureau Act. By June, it will be exactly five years since he resigned as a director of Davnotch”.
The addition of Nigeria underscores the seriousness of allegations against Rolls-Royce and highlights the growing focus by western investigators on suspected misconduct by businesses outside their home states, reported FT.
The expanded probe comes as Rolls-Royce seeks to re-establish credibility with investors after five profit warnings in less than two years. It also throws light on another side to graft problems in countries such as Nigeria, which David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, unguardedly declared to be “fantastically corrupt” in remarks overheard last week.
Both the SFO and Rolls-Royce said they do not comment on ongoing investigations.
The company added that it was co-operating with the relevant authorities. “We have made it clear that Rolls-Royce will not tolerate business misconduct of any kind,” it said.
Rolls-Royce was first approached by the SFO in 2012 regarding allegations of corruption in Indonesia and China. The company then appointed law firm Debevoise & Plimpton to investigate. Certain businesses in those countries and others were “red flagged” and files were passed to the SFO, which launched a criminal investigation a year later. The US Department of Justice is also looking at the issue.
Warren East, the chief executive appointed last July, has said unethical behaviour will not be tolerated and the group has cut the number of third-party agents used abroad significantly over the past few years.