JAMES CUSICK, PAUL PEACHEY
Two British businessmen have been arrested on suspicion of bribing a Norwegian official alleged to be involved the controversial sale of six former naval vessels to a Nigerian private security company.
A joint investigation by the City of London’s Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit (OACU) and their counterparts in Norway, Okokrim, examined how the former warships, including missile-torpedo boats (MTBs), ended up under the control of a former Niger Delta militant who now runs privatised national security contracts worth millions of dollars that have been authorised by the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan.
Detectives from the OACU arrested a man in his early 40s at his home in Alfreton, Derbyshire, and a man in his late 50s at an address in East Molesey, Surrey. The two are alleged to have made payments to a Norwegian civil servant totalling more than $150,000 (£100,000).
The money, in two separate transactions, is alleged to have been paid directly into the official’s personal bank account. The cash is alleged to have helped secure the sale of the decommissioned Norwegian Navy ships by disguising the eventual destination of the warships.
Under Norway’s ethical foreign policy rules, the direct sale of the decommissioned warships to a private Nigerian company regarded as effectively running the country’s outsourced national coast guard, could have proved difficult.
With a general election in Nigeria scheduled for February next year, both the Norwegian ministry of defence and the country’s foreign affairs departments in Oslo, were likely to have asked for a lengthy political assessment of the export deal if the destination of the vessels had been fully known.
It is understood that the Norwegian authorities assumed their former naval MTBs, post-sale, would be converted to unarmed vessels and operate under European laws.
In addition to the two arrests in England, a business address in Surrey was also searched by the OACU with computer equipment and documents seized.
The UK police have not named the company involved, stating only that it was involved in “international risk management for the maritime industry.” However authorities in Norway say the arrested men are connected to a UK firm called CAS Global, which is headquartered in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey. The firm describes itself as specialising in “maritime services”.
CAS also has registered offices in Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, in Tema in Ghana, and in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.
Police in Norway have arrested a third man in Tonsberg on the country’s south west coast.
DCI Danny Medlycott, head of the OACU, said the operation was a “great example” of how his unit was working closely with other international enforcement partners “to combat bribery and corruption.”
Although the OACU have been involved in 150 corruption and bribery operations since being established in 2006, its most high-profile success is Operation Cent which resulted in the convictions of those involved in producing and selling fake “substance detectors”.
The “useless” devices, which had a £3m annual turnover, were sold around the world and marketed as capable of finding explosives. The trial judge said the scam investigated by the OACU had “damaged the reputation of British trade abroad.”
The former Norwegian missile torpedo boats are now part of a private fleet under the control of Ekpemupolo Tompolo. He was a militia leader in the 2009 Niger Delta insurgency that fought the Nigerian army and destroyed oil installations in widespread protests against corruption and mismanagement in the region’s high-value oil industry.
Since the uprising and following President Goodluck’s first election victory in 2011, Mr Tompolo’s security firm, Global West Vessels Specialist (GWVS) has won lucrative state contracts that have been criticised in some quarters as undermining the authority of the Nigerian Navy.
Okokrim – Norway’s National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime – were tasked with investigating how the sale of the vessels was fast-tracked to a UK-registered company but ended up in the fleet owned by Mr Tompolo, who is a close political ally to President Goodluck.