In the 1990s, executives at an obscure energy company bribed Nigerian officials to obtain spectacularly profitable oil mining licenses. Now, the Suisse Secrets project reveals that the company’s parent firm poured money into Swiss bank accounts held jointly by its employees and African elites, including a Nigerian spy chief.
In May of 1998, an obscure company called Addax Petroleum came from nowhere to take Nigeria’s oil industry by storm, scoring one of the most lucrative deals the country had ever seen.
Despite having no record in oil extraction, Addax scooped up four valuable oil exploration and production licenses. The deal set off a spectacular rise for the Swiss-based firm, which was registered on the tiny Caribbean island of Curaçao. After going public in 2006, it was sold three years later to China’s state oil giant for $7.2 billion.
Years later, a French court case uncovered some of the hidden reasons behind the company’s sudden success: Addax executives testified that they had paid $5 million in bribes into the Swiss bank account of Nigeria’s oil minister during the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha, who ruled the West African nation for five years after seizing power in a 1993 coup.
Credit: Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo Dan Etete, Nigeria’s oil minister under the regime of General Sani Abacha
The payments, testimony showed, were made to secure the oil licenses of Ashland Inc., an American energy firm that had fallen into dispute with Nigerian authorities. Addax had also set up Swiss accounts for Abacha’s two oldest sons, and used Swiss banks to funnel millions in illicit “commissions” to Nigerian officials, the case showed.
Now, OCCRP has uncovered new evidence that executives at the Addax and Oryx Group (AOG), the investment firm that owned Addax, maintained secret financial ties with politicians in West and Central Africa as Addax prospered. Like the bribes, this money was also routed through the Swiss banking system.
Among those to benefit were Umaru Ali Shinkafi, a former Nigerian spy chief whose ties to the company were not publicly reported. Shinkafi also held a valuable stake in AOG by 2015, according to a share register obtained by OCCRP.
Olanrewaju Suraju, a Nigerian anti-corruption activist and chairman of Human and Environmental Development Agenda, said that given Addax’s track record of bribery to people surrounding the Abacha government, it was possible the newly discovered accounts were also intended as payments for government officials.
In total, four employees of Addax and AOG held five joint accounts with these politicians at Credit Suisse, starting as early as the mid-1990s according to the leaked Suisse Secrets data. Some remained open well into the last decade. The account-holders included one of Shinkafi’s long-time associates, as well as multiple political figures in Senegal and the Republic of the Congo, countries where Addax and AOG also operated.