NIAMEY, May 27 (Reuters) - Almost 40% of the $312 million Niger spent on defence procurement contracts over the last three years was lost through inflated costs or materiel that was not delivered, according to a government audit of military contracts seen by Reuters.
The deals for military vehicles, ammunition and attack helicopters were mainly signed with local contractors who then sourced from firms abroad, including Ukraine, France, Russia and China.
Niger, an ally for France and the United States in the fight against Islamic State and al Qaeda-linked extremists in the Sahel, is one of the world’s poorest countries but has ramped up military spending in the last few years.
Hundreds of Nigerien troops have been killed in fighting and soldiers frequently complain about conditions on the frontline.
The audit was handed to Niger’s top prosecutor in April, who said at the time those involved would be held accountable. The government spokesman referred Reuters to the prosecutor for comment.
The audit, which reviewed 177 contracts struck between 2017 and 2019, concluded the state had lost a total of 71.8 billion CFA ($120 million) from a total spending of 185.9 billion CFA.
“The suppliers unanimously recognised the accusations that were made against them,” the report said, adding that public officials who were in charge of the procedures were also to be blamed.
The report found numerous cases of unfair and fictitious competition.
In one case, three companies belonging to the same supplier competed against each other for the same contract.
“By giving the illusion of competition, the supplier imposed the price by disqualifying the fake competitors that he had chosen himself,” it said.
A provisional report, completed in February, found that a total of 76.1 billion CFA had been lost. However, this final report includes further evidence and the cross-questioning of suppliers, who provided further explanations on the contracts.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world with a GDP of around $9 billion, according to the World Bank. (Additional reporting and writing by David Lewis, Editing by Bate Felix and Angus MacSwan)