London’s Southwark Crown Court, which on 17 April 2012 sentenced  James Ibori, the notorious former governor of Delta State for 13 years for money laundering, continues today another case involving Nigeria’s shameful corruption.

It is the trial of Mr.  Peter Chapman, the former director of business development in Africa for Melbourne, Australia-based polymer banknote firm Securency International. Judge Michael Grieve QC is presiding.

Chapman had pleaded not guilty to six corruption charges over alleged bribes in 2007, 2008 and 2009 to a Nigerian mint official, not yet identified in the court. But Nigerians know him to be Ehidiamhem Okoyomon, former managing director of the Mint. The rogue official is now fighting the EFCC over his extradition to Britain, using the compromised Nigerian judiciary to avoid UK justice.

Mr. Chapman arranged for hundreds of thousands of dollars to be transferred to Okoyomon through a web of offshore companies and accounts; the jury heard this week.

The jury was told the payments initially went straight to Okoyomon from a company named Swingaxle that Chapman had registered in the Seychelles for “various side projects.”

However, later alleged bribes went by a more circuitous route, to a company the official had set up using false documents such as the photograph of an unwitting driver who worked for the mint.

The prosecutor is John McGuinness QC. And in two days of trial, he has brought out mind-boggling things about the debauchery of Nigerian officials who see nothing wrong in accepting bribes.

David Ellery, the former financial director of Securency, told the court on Thursday that bribing a Nigerian official was just “a cost of doing business.”

“At the time there was a disappointment, but I agreed to proceed with it,” said David Ellery, who was Securency’s financial controller and company secretary until 2010.

Mr. Ellery also claimed that several other senior executives at Securency were aware of the alleged bribe. Ellery had agreed with police to reveal corrupt activity at Securency International, in exchange for a prosecution deal which led to his avoiding jail.

Mr. Ellery said he was present at a meeting at Securency’s head office about their Nigerian operation, attended by Mr. Chapman and several other senior Securency directors.

The discussion focused on bringing forward an order for polymer substrate (used to produce banknotes) from the next year to the current year to make the company’s forward orders “look stronger”, Mr. Ellery said.

“Peter Chapman indicated that there would be a cost involved in doing that, which at that point was thought to be entertainment or a first class airfare or something like that (or) to take the senior representatives of the Nigerian bank on a factual tour to see how banknotes were printed,” he said.

Mr. Chapman was “somewhat upset” at the meeting, he said, because “he felt an unreasonable amount of pressure was being put on him to achieve sales.”

Later Mr. Chapman admitted to Mr. Ellery in a phone call that the “cost” involved would actually be a payment of a sum of money to Okoyomon at the Nigerian mint, in order to “achieve a letter of intent” from the mint for the proposed orders, Mr. Ellery said.

“That’s not the same thing as taking someone on a tour,” prosecutor John McGuinness QC said.

“No, it is not,” Mr. Ellery replied. However, he said, “the payment was taken as a cost of doing business there (in Nigeria) … there was a disappointment, but I agreed to proceed with it”.

Mr. Ellery said that after being told of the alleged bribe in the call with Mr. Chapman, he discussed the call with Hugh Brown, the Securency director of sales, with Joe Mamo the director of strategic marketing, and another executive “at various times afterwards.” Both Mamo and Brown were aware of the purpose of the payment, he said.

He later had a discussion with Mr. Chapman “centred on what was the best description” to place on an invoice to disguise the alleged bribe.

In the end, it was described as “additional services”, which normally would be covered by the sales agent’s commission.

When the invoice came in, he wrote “ok to pay” on it and added his initials.

Later in an email a Securency executive, he said he had spoken with Mr. Chapman “to confirm that the matter we discussed last night assisted in setting a positive mood to this meeting” – referring to a meeting in Nigeria.

The “matter” he referred to was the payment to the Nigerian official, Mr. Ellery said.

Some time later Mr. Chapman told Mr. Ellery that the recipient of the cash payment had been Okoyomon at the Nigerian mint, known to them both. He said the money had gone to help pay the mortgage of a property the man owned.

Mr. Chapman “indicated that since an investigation had started he was concerned as to the transparency of the transaction and had gone to Nigeria to prepare paperwork to justify the payment,” Mr. Ellery said.

Under cross examination by defence counsel David Spens QC, Mr. Ellery admitted that he had lied to police several times over his knowledge of corruption at Securency.

The prosecution had told the court on Wednesday how Chapman had promised his bosses to “pull a rabbit out of a hat” to lock down valuable business orders in Nigeria – shortly before he arranged for a bribe to a key official, a London court was told.

Referring to Okoyomon he was allegedly bribing; Peter Chapman told his bosses in an email he had seen the man and won a promise of millions of dollars worth of orders for polymer for printing banknotes.

“There are some aspects to this I need to discuss, but essentially this particular rabbit will jump out of the same battered hat again. Details to follow but they are likely to be along the same lines as the last rabbit,” Mr. Chapman said, in a passage he had highlighted in red text in an email to his superiors at Securency.

Prosecutor John McGuinness, QC, told the jury at London’s Southwark Crown Court this language “was consistent” with the previous language that Mr. Chapman had used in relation to bribes.

On another occasion, Mr. Chapman boasted that his contact at Nigeria’s national mint – the man he was alleged to be secretly bribing – had “kicked them all around the car park this morning as he promised he would” to secure shipments of polymer from Securency.

The “unorthodox” route for two bribes in 2009 followed Fairfax Media’s publication of stories exposing potential corruption at Securency; Mr. McGuinness told the court.

Mr. Chapman claimed in his defence statement that he incurred legitimate business expenses that Securency had been “reluctant to (repay) openly” after The Age newspaper’s investigation team alleged that Securency was a company that paid bribes.

Instead, he resigned from the company for health reasons then came back on board as a consultant, which was a “sort of cover” to recover the payments made to the official, Mr. McGuinness said Mr. Chapman claimed.

But Mr. McGuinness said Mr. Chapman’s payments to the mint official were “straightforward corrupt payments”, and Mr. Chapman’s explanation for them was “unorthodox, one might even say it’s dishonest, but the prosecution says it simply isn’t true.”

Mr. McGuinness said Mr. Chapman’s defence that the alleged bribes were the repayment of a loan to cover expenses in Nigeria was not borne out by the evidence.

Mr. Chapman was meticulous in claiming his business expenses – even down to a £4.21 lunch. They were all documented and sent to Securency. But there was no record of his claiming the expenses that he now says were the explanation for the alleged bribe payments, Mr McGuinness said.

“If he were telling the truth about that you would expect to find evidence he had submitted claims to Securency,” he said. “It’s not as though it was because Mr Chapman wasn’t the sort of person who fills out expense claim forms – he did.”

Mr McGuinness said there was evidence of a “strong relationship” between Mr Chapman and Okoyomon  at the mint he was allegedly bribing – they had frequent meetings and met for dinner and at hotels.

In 2006 he was one of two referees for  Okoyomon’s application for naturalisation as a British citizen, saying he had known the man for three years. Later that year he countersigned Okoyomon’s passport application, saying he had known him for six years – a form on which Okoyomon  claimed to work for Chapman’s father’s company, event though Mr. Chapman knew that to be false.

“It extended further than being a professional business relationship,” Mr. McGuinness said.

The prosecution alleged Mr. Chapman’s bribes had helped smooth the way when Securency hit trouble in its Nigerian business – when it wanted a bigger downpayment on polymer shipping or was chasing further and bigger orders.

After one success, one of Mr. Chapman’s bosses emailed him.

“I know this is down to yourself … in securing these new additions to the polymer fold,” the email said. “It will go a long way to fulfil this year’s budget. Well done.”

After another success, a message from head office read: “Peter don’t you just love it when the plan comes to fruition. Well done squire, more power to the elbow as we say.”

*Rearranged from reports by Nick Miller for Sydney Morning Herald: Bribing Nigerian official cost of doing business

 

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