Nigeria moves to query Siemens on bribery allegations

It seeks to question officials in the wake of German conviction on related charges

Siemens may not be able to bid for telecom projects in Africa any time soon, following a move by Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to invite senior officials of the company in for questioning over an alleged €17.5 million (US$21 million) in bribes to Nigerian government officials.

Siemens officials have already been slapped by a fine in Germany, and the company itself faces a World Bank ban, in the wake of similar bribery charges.

This week, the EFCC asked Siemens managers for interviews regarding alleged payments to senior Nigerian government officials, in a bid to force them to reveal the names of the authorities who benefited from the bribes. The Germany company is also alleged to have paid more than US$100 million to officials in Egypt, Cameroon and Libya, among other African countries, for supply contracts.

Nigeria is Africa's largest telecom market, with big companies including Huawei of China competing for supply contracts.

The Nigerian government has also asked the German government for a copy of a sentence a Munich Court handed down in the case of two former Siemens managers found guilty of using bribery to obtain telecom contracts in Nigeria. Siemens was fined $201 million by the court. The certified copy of the judgment, EFCC Chairwoman Farida Waziri said, will help the agency identify the people who were involved in the bribery and how much was given to them.

Siemens is already facing a ban to bid for World Bank-funded telecom projects in Africa for two years over a related bribery scandal. After complaints from the World Bank and other telecom institutions in Nigeria, the Nigerian government was forced to cancel a supply contract with Siemens and suspended dealing with the company pending investigations. The World Bank is the largest funder of telecom projects in Africa.

"Nigeria is setting an example in African that those in authority should be genuine in their duties," said Edith Mwale, a telecom analyst at the Africa Agency for ICT Development. "Accepting bribes results in shoddy work because contracts are not awarded on merit."

Last week, the EFCC also interviewed ex-government officials in Nigeria alleged to have benefited from the bribery.

Nigeria and Germany have a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, which should pave the way for Siemens officials to appear before EFCC to answer the bribery charges and to extradite those convicted.

The World Bank said last month that it is implementing measures to curb corruption in the ICT projects it funds. The bank decided to launch a new initiative, dubbed e-Transformation, that is aimed at driving the region's telecom sector growth in collaboration with the private sector and African government. The bank decided to involve Microsoft, IBM and Intel in awarding and implementing ICT projects in a bid to curb corrupt practices by African government officials.

Investigations are still under way in other African countries to establish whether Siemens had bribed government officials for supply contracts. Following a ban by the World Bank for Siemens to bid its funded projects, Siemens later committed to paying more than US$100 million to support the bank's global effort over the next 15 years to fight corruption. The company also agreed to provide information on any additional cases of wrongdoing to the World Bank's Integrity vice presidency, which investigates fraud and corruption.

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Michael Malakata

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