Wires

Nigerian anti-graft office charges former oil official over failed gas deal

Camillus Eboh

ABUJA, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Nigeria's anti-fraud office on Friday charged a former petroleum ministry official with accepting bribes and failing to follow protocol over an ill-fated gas deal that has left the government facing a disputed bill of more than $9 billion.

Grace Taiga, former petroleum ministry director of legal, pleaded not guilty in a court in the capital of Abuja to eight counts of wrongdoing put forward by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

In court documents, the EFCC also alleged the now-deceased former petroleum minister and OPEC official Rilwanu Lukman broke the law by signing the deal without proper approvals and protocol.

The charges relate to a 2010 contract with British Virgin Islands-based firm Process and Industrial Developments (P&ID) to build and operate a gas-processing plant in the southeastern port city of Calabar.

P&ID took the government to international arbitration after the deal's collapse, eventually winning a $6.6 billion award. It has been accruing interest since 2013 and is now worth more than $9 billion.

The government has said the deal was designed to fail, and called the award "an assault on every Nigerian and unfair." P&ID said the EFCC had harrassed, intimidated and denied due process to individuals associated with the company and the contract.

The EFCC alleges Taiga accepted bribes, made false statements and signed the contract without approval from the federal executive council and Bureau of Public Procurement.

It said she received $1,000 in 2015 and payments of $10,000 in each of December 2017 and June 2018 as a reward for favors to P&ID.

The judge remanded Taiga in prison until her application for bail is determined on Sept. 25. (Reporting by Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Writing by Libby George; Editing by Mark Potter)