By Emmanuel Addeh
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has clarified that it did not lose 48 million barrels of crude oil to theft, describing an allegation that such quantity of crude oil was stolen and shipped to China as a failed attempt by officials of a Mexican firm to extort, intimidate and defraud the corporation.
In fact, it said, there was no stolen Nigerian crude oil anywhere in China.
Consequently, lawyers to the state-owned oil firm, Afe Babalola and Co., had said the corporation had concluded arrangements to sue an oil trading firm, Samano Sa De CV, for making several unsubstantiated claims against it.
NNPC has also described the company that made the allegation of stolen crude oil as “an international crime syndicate.”
The company had written the NNPC demanding a five per cent reward for ‘exposing’ the alleged diversion and theft of 48 million barrels of crude oil valued at over $2 billion.
It said despite the assurances of the reward, some government and NNPC officials sold the products with the proceeds not remitted to the government’s coffers, while the corporation also refused to pay the five per cent.
But in a statement signed on behalf of the NNPC by the law firm, the corporation noted that the entire episode was replete with falsehoods, offensive and a failed move at gold-digging.
According to the corporation, Samano first contacted officials of the federal government in 2015, indicating that it had been approached by an unnamed group in China to buy 48 million barrels of Nigerian crude oil, which they believed to have been stolen from Nigeria.
It said Samano requested that it be allowed to purchase the stolen crude after its recovery, adding that shortly after, the company indicated that it was no longer interested in buying as it only obliged the government with the information to assist the Buhari administration’s fight against corruption.
The NNPC stated that it was impossible, based on the operations and state of the international crude oil market in 2015, to ship 48 million barrels of crude oil from Nigeria to China without any record or trace of the same.
“For context, as of 2015, the daily production of crude oil in Nigeria was below 1.6 million barrels. Therefore, 48 million barrels of crude oil would have been the total production capacity of the country for a whole month.
“It was and remains simply impossible for one-month crude oil production for the entire country to disappear without any record or trace from the shores of the country.
“NNPC was also aware that as at the material time and considering the fact that the People’s Republic of China is one of the most regulated economies in the world, the export of crude oil from Nigeria to China was exclusively undertaken by four known companies approved by, under the control, ownership, and management of the Chinese government.
“It would, therefore, have been impossible to transport 48 million barrels of crude oil from Nigeria to China without the active involvement of the said companies. Again, from an economic perspective, it made little sense that anyone would store that volume of crude oil in China for such a considerable period having regard to the attendant significant storage costs,” NNPC stated.
The NNPC added that the Chinese government had, through its officials, stated in response to the allegation at different fora that there was no stolen Nigerian crude oil stored in any port or terminal or storage facility in China.
It said that despite the reservations and in view of the fact that transparency remained an integral component of state policy under President Muhammadu Buhari, the federal government set up the Presidential Committee on Recovery of Stolen Nigerian Crude Oil in response to the claims made by several companies including Samano.
The NNPC explained that when Samano was asked to present evidence in proof of its allegations to enable it to investigate and verify its claim, it refused, neglected or failed to provide the committee with any cogent and verifiable evidence in support of its allegations.
It added: “Notwithstanding the failure of Samano to produce verifiable evidence in support of its allegations, for completeness, relevant officials were mandated to pay an in-person visit to China and further investigate Samano’s claim.
“During this fact-finding trip to China, it was discovered that Samano’s claim was false as there were no 48 million barrels of stolen Nigerian crude oil or any stolen Nigerian crude oil in any port, terminal or storage facility in China.
“It was also discovered that all the documents previously presented by Samano in support of its claims were not genuine. A report of this finding was issued by the committee to Mr. President.
“Consequently, the federal government terminated all communications with Samano as it became apparent that its claim was a hoax. ”
According to the corporation, when Samano realised that the government was no longer interested in the non-existent stolen crude, it resorted to blackmail and intimidation of key officials of the government.
The NNPC stressed that the company threatened that it would publicise the fact that the non-existent crude had been recovered, sold and proceeds looted by senior government officials and other personalities when it knew this was absolute falsehood.
“Samano made several demands, including the demand that it be paid the sum of $125,000,000:00 by the government officials to prevent it from disclosing this false information to the public,” it added.
As a result of the constant harassment, NNPC said it was constrained to make a formal report to the Department of State Security (DSS) and Nigeria Police while other victims wrote petitions in respect of the same subject to the Attorney-General of the Federation.
After a thorough investigation, the corporation explained that it was discovered that the allegations of conspiracy, forgery, obtaining money by false pretence, blackmail and extortion were well-founded and that some of the fraudulent activities of one Mr. Ramirez and Mr. Jose Salazar Tinajero (both agents of Samano) constituted a threat to the national security of Nigeria.
“During its investigation, the Nigerian Police discovered that Samano is part of a notorious crime syndicate that habitually intimidates, blackmails, and defrauds government officials and other high-profile persons.
“For instance, it was discovered that Mr. Ramirez, Samano’s representative, was indicted by the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Texas as the mastermind of a scheme leading to the loss of several millions of dollars through various mail and wire frauds between 2010 and 2013.
“The police became aware that Mr. Ramirez fled the United States of America and settled in Nigeria where he continued his criminal activities in conjunction with Samano and its managing director,” the national oil said.
It added that there is a subsisting warrant issued by the United States government for the arrest of Ramirez, while his wife has been convicted in the United States for her role in a visa lottery scam, he masterminded.
NNPC said it was aware the officials of the company are being currently prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for other offences.
The corporation noted that while the company claims that it is entitled to compensation for supplying information on the missing crude oil pursuant to the federal government’s whistleblower policy, the so-called information was furnished in 2015 whilst the policy only commenced in December 2016.
“Samano’s attempt to shift attention from the on-going criminal charges against its managing director and agents will not fly. NNPC has instructed counsel to take appropriate legal actions against Samano and its officers for the injury done to the corporation and its officials by the falsehoods peddled by Samano and its agents,” the NNPC said.