Last updated: January 11, 2013 6:26 pm

Nigeria ex-central banker in graft probe

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Nigerian anti-corruption investigators have questioned a former central bank governor of the west African country over a currency deal with an Australian company that saw millions of dollars paid to middlemen.

Charles Soludo, who headed the bank from 2004 to 2009, was summoned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the capital Abuja on Thursday as part of an investigation into the contract with Securency, a currency-printing technology company half owned by Australia’s central bank.

During Mr Soludo’s tenure, Nigeria switched from paper currency to polymer banknotes that used Securency’s material.

In 2009, after Australian media queried Securency’s use of sales agents in foreign countries, Australian police launched an investigation into the company. Senior company officials have since been charged over dealings in Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

The Reserve Bank of Australia declined to comment on Friday.

In Nigeria’s case, millions of dollars were wired to middlemen who brokered the currency deal, with some of the money going to accounts in tax havens.

The Age newspaper in Melbourne alleged that two British businessmen were among the beneficiaries. It said that some of the money was thought to have been passed on to Nigerian officials, as kickbacks.

Mr Soludo declined to comment on Friday. He has not been accused of wrongdoing, and there is no suggestion he benefited from the deal with Securency.

A friend of Mr Soludo’s, who did not wish to be named, said the former governor received a letter from the EFCC on December 20, saying that a human rights group had issued a petition against him in connection with the currency deal.

“He [Mr Soludo] was asked to give some clarifications, which he did yesterday [Thursday],” the friend said. “This is a political smear campaign, and there is not one iota of proof against him.”

Wilson Uwujaren, a spokesman for the EFCC, said that Mr Soludo was “quizzed” for several hours on Thursday.

“Mr Soludo was invited for questioning, and he may be invited back again,” said Mr Uwujaren. “It is part an ongoing investigation in the Australian bank note deal.”

Mr Uwujaren said that officials from the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting company, which produce the country’s notes and coins, had also been questioned, along with “a couple of central bank staff”.

Despite promises by successive governments since the end of military rule in 1999, the fight against high-level corruption in Nigeria has never properly taken off.

Several reports into the oil and gas industry last year have shown that billions of dollars are still been lost to graft each year in that sector alone, with the connivance of government officials.

Though no one senior has been held accountable, President Goodluck Jonathan says his administration is improving controls and closing loopholes to make it harder for steal money.

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