Nigeria escapes $11bn payment to Irish gas firm
Nigeria has won a landmark case in a British court, overturning an $11.5 billion damages bill for a collapsed gas deal involving the Irish-owned firm Process & Industrial Developments (P&ID).
London's Commercial Court, in its ruling on Monday, upheld the West African country’s claim that the deal had been obtained through fraudulent means.
The Nigerian government had previously been ordered to pay the sum in a settlement to P&ID, which although Irish-owned, is based in the British Virgin Islands.
However, the court’s Justice Robin Knowles concluded that the company paid bribes to a Nigerian oil ministry official in connection with a 2010 gas contract, and failed to disclose this during the subsequent arbitration process following the deal's collapse.
“I have not accepted all of Nigeria’s allegations. But the awards were obtained by fraud” in a manner “contrary to public policy,” Knowles said.
P&ID was awarded a 20-year contract under the Accelerated Gas Development (AGD) scheme to construct and operate a processing plant in the southern region of Africa’s largest economy. In 2017, an arbitration tribunal granted the firm $6.6 billion in lost profits after the project failed, with the debt increasing to over $11 billion with accrued interest.
Earlier this year, Nigeria's lawyers asked the court to invalidate the award, claiming that P&ID manipulated Nigerian lawyers in order to gain access to confidential documents during the arbitration. P&ID denied the allegations, accusing Nigeria of systemic incompetence.
On Monday, Judge Knowles wrote in his verdict that the case demonstrated greed and corruption and “sadly, brought together a combination of examples of what some individuals will do for money.”
Apart from establishing that the gas contract was corrupted, he said P&ID had previously secured a victory in a UK arbitration case against the oil-rich African nation through bribery.
The judge found two senior British lawyers for P&ID – Trevor Burke and Seamus Andrew – guilty of misconduct, explaining that they received confidential Nigerian documents during the arbitration that they were not authorized to access.
The lawyers, who stood to gain billions from a possible payout and one of whom took a 75% stake in P&ID and is related to one of the group'd founders, were driven by “the money they hoped to make,” Knowles concluded, adding that he had referred them to legal standards regulators.
The judge said a further hearing would take place to determine whether to return the case to arbitration or immediately dismiss the $11 billion award.
P&ID's lawyers have expressed disappointment and said they are considering alternative legal avenues.
Nigerian President Bola Tinubu hailed the judgment as a victory against economic conspiracies involving private companies and corrupt officials, as well as African exploitation.
“Today's victory is not for Nigeria alone. It is a victory for our long exploited continent and for the developing world at large, which has for too long been on the receiving end of unjust economic malpractice and overt exploitation,” Tinubu said in a statement.