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Britain has launched an investigation into a Nlgerian oil tycoon at the heart of a search for tens of billions of dollars in revenues that went missing from the coffers of Africa’s most populous nation.
Kola Aluko, founder of London-based Seven Energy, rose from obscurity to fabulous wealth during the tenure of former oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke. She held power for five years before leaving in May, when new president Muhammadu Buhari won power on a pledge to stamp out corruption. Under her watch the national oil company allegedly failed to pay as much as $20bn (£13bn) owed to the state.
Last month the National Crime Agency’s new International Corruption Unit arrested the former minister, who has relocated to London for cancer treatment, along with four others under an investigation of “suspected bribery and money laundering offences”. She was released on conditional bail.
Aluko, a Swiss citizen known for his flamboyant lifestyle, has been drawn into the inquiry. Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice said it had “received a British request for legal assistance concerning Kola Aluko. The [office] has forwarded the request to the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland for execution”.
Speaking to The Sunday Times, Aluko confirmed a probe over potential violations of the UK Proceeds of Crime Act and Bribery Act but professed his innocence. He said: “I’m willing to co-operate with anybody. I have nothing to hide.” Alison-Madueke has also denied any wrongdoing.
The inquiry comes amid a shake-up in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer. Buhari beat incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in the wake of allegations from former central bank governor Lamido Sanusi that $20bn of petroleum revenue had not been remitted to the state over a 19-month period.
Jonathan fired Sanusi, but lost the election. Buhari made himself oil minister and launched an effort to track down the cash.
The probe into Aluko centres on Atlantic Energy, the 46-year-old’s private oil group. (Seven Energy is not subject to investigation.) In early 2011 Atlantic signed a lucrative strategic alliance giving it rights to sell oil from four big blocks on behalf of Nigeria’s national oil company. Before the oil price crashed, Aluko said the commercial value of the contract was an estimated $7bn.
Aluko admitted he paid the rent on a flat in St John’s Wood in London for Alison-Madueke’s mother, as well as bringing her “hams, sausages and orchids”. He said these were simply gifts to a friend, given long after Atlantic had signed its deal. He said: “We already had our contract before I developed a friendship with her. She wasn’t even involved in the negotiations. There is no crime here.”
Atlantic was one of several companies that struck similar strategic alliance agreements.