The Nigerian angle to a bribery scandal rocking a Reserve Bank of Australia Company under federal police investigation for allegedly bribing Nigerian officials to win a banknote deal first reported here yesterday.
The probe centres on a series of multimillion-dollar payments by the RBA firm Securency to offshore accounts of two British-based businessmen, Benoy Berry and Mike Harding, who boast high-level political contacts in Britain and Africa.
On Wednesday September 30, at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua smiled and beamed as he launched the polymer currency notes for the country. But far away in Australia, crack detectives were reviewing case files in Canberra, making sense of which, and how many Nigerian officials shared about 750 million Naira in bribe money from the Australian polymer company, Securency, to secure the contract to supply the polymer notes to the Nigerian government.
Top officials from the Nigerian presidency, and the Central Bank of Nigeria, have refused to comment on the scandal which was exposed last Friday by reporters of the The Age newspaper of Australia.
According to investigations, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) are closing in on Securency International Pty Limited, The indications are that Securency paid out bribes to some Nigerian officials in order to win the contract which has now enabled them to supply at least 1.9 billion pieces of polymer notes so far.
A report about possible misdemeanour by Securency, a joint venture company between the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and Innovia Films, have now shown that the money was paid between 2006 and 2008 to some Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) staff officials and other influential Nigerians using two UK-based businessmen, Benoy Berry and Michael Harvey.
How it began
The CBN then, under Charles Soludo, on February 28, 2007, launched the first polymer note, the N20, on a trial basis. In October, 2008, the CBN obtained presidential approval to convert the other lower naira denominations, N5, N10, and N50, from paper to polymer notes.
In launching the new currencies, the Bank said in a statement that “printing the N20 note on polymer was a test case. The essence of the experiment was to determine the advantages and demerits of the polymer substrate and its acceptance by Nigerians.
The response from the presidency
NEXT attempts to get a response on the matter were unsuccesful. Presidential spokesman, Olusegun Adeniyi failed to pick up calls made to his phone, while David Edebvie, the Principal Private Secretary to the president, declined to speak on the telephone about the matter.
“Put it in writing and send it to my office. I will then decide whether I will respond,” Mr. Edevbie said to NEXT.
Mr. Soludo, professor of economics and former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, under whose tenure the deal was signed and executed, declined comments saying: “I am no longer the CBN governor and I am not able to comment on anything.” Mr. Soludo, who is now running to be the next governor of his home state of Anambra, suggested that we “Please talk to the governor” by which he meant, the new Governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.
Mr. Sanusi is currently attending the International Monetary Fund [IMF] meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, but the CBN spokesman, Mohammed Abdullahi, in response to questions from NEXT said “I am not aware of anything like that” asking that, “If you have any proof, you can bring it.”
Mr. Abdullahi said that the polymer note proved to be more economical than the paper notes, hence the change. “Research in the last two years shows that polymer notes are more durable than the paper notes. In the long run, there is a 50% cut in costs when we use the polymer notes,” he said.
Securency’s history in Nigeria
Securency’s interests in the country are likely to have started around the year 2006. Before the end of that year, the company had clinched a deal that compelled the country to embark on a trial of the polymer note. This was the period when the CBN carried out a Currency Restructuring Programme.
From the Start
Securency produces the press ready polymer substrate, Guardian®, on which bank notes are printed. Their breakthrough patent was first used in Australia in 1988. Since then, the Australian company has penetrated other countries, selling to them its patented product and urging a shift from the traditional paper money. The polymer note’s selling point is in its advertised toughness, security features, and resistance to soiling, thus, its durability.
In 20 years, Securency has succeeded in spreading to over 20 countries. According to the Reserve Bank of Australia, the company thrives on foreign contracts and claims that ‘90% of Securency’s revenue comes from exports’.
Curiously, almost all these countries have been classified by the Australian Foreign Ministry as developing countries. Securency’s Guardian® may be selling in developing countries but more than this, The Age deduces that these countries are also some of the most corruption-prone countries.
“It [Securency] excels at doing business not only in Vietnam but in some of the most corruption-prone countries in the world,” the paper said.
The middle men
According to ‘The Age’ the two men who clinched the deal, Mr. Berry and Mr. Harvey ‘boast [of] high-level political contacts in Britain and Africa‘. Allegedly contracted as agents by Securency, the men helped to disperse the almost 750 million naira for the purpose of securing the banking note contract with the Nigerian government.
Mr. Berry, heads Contec Global, a company with diversified interests in Energy, Security Technologies, hospitality, and construction. The Security Technologies unit of the group is concerned with Biometrics, Smart Cards, e-passports, and currency. There are claims that 40% of Africa‘s population, including Nigeria, use passports designed, processed, printed, and delivered by Contec Global. Continental Transfer Technology Limited is another company which Mr. Berry sits on its board, along with some Nigerians; Hassan Ibeto, Adam Ali Biu, and his brother Roheen Berry.
Mr. Berry, who has considerable influence in security prints and has previously been investigated in Uganda, allegedly had at least $5 million paid into an offshore account which belongs to him. He is said to have worked with Mr. Harvey to give Securency’s African office access to the Nigerian market.
Mr. Harvey, claims he was only called into the deal after the supply contracts had been completed.
“My job was to create demand for Securency to countries…we are a group of marketing companies who seek business and access markets,” he said.
The CBN has, however, claimed ignorance of the existence of a bribery scheme in the Securency deal.
Although the Australian Police is yet to send in a response to NEXT‘s enquiries, The Age says that a probe into the Securency scandal is apace.
“The bribery probe centres on a series of multi-million-dollar payments made by RBA firm Securency into tax haven bank accounts belonging to two UK-based businessmen, Benoy Berry and Mike Harding,” says the Australian newspaper.
One result of this probe is the retirement of Securency’s African office manager, Peter Chapman. According to Mr. Harding, Mr. Chapman led the Nigerian deal.
“The business in Nigeria…we did not start that. The supply contract to the CBN was arranged through Benoy Berry and Mr. Chapman,” Mr. Harding said.
Mr. Harvey further claimed that the Nigerian senate and the presidency were aware of the Securency contract scandal, hinting that the deal was under investigation by the Federal Government.