July 13, 2020 / 4:36 PM / 21 days ago

Nigeria in court battle to overturn $10bln arbitration award

LAGOS, July 13 (Reuters) - The Nigerian government has uncovered previously unknown payments to the daughter of a Nigerian official, its lawyer told a court on Monday, in its latest attempt to overturn an arbitration award against it worth close to $10 billion.

Process & Industrial Developments (P&ID), a firm set up to carry out a gas project in Nigeria, won a $6.6 billion arbitration award after the 2010 deal collapsed. The award has been accruing interest since 2013 and is now worth nearly $10 billion.

Nigeria is seeking permission in the English courts to appeal the award, granted in 2017, despite having missed the 28-day appeal deadline. It says new information came to light only in late 2019.

In an online English court hearing, the Nigerian government’s lawyer said it has evidence of payments from companies related to P&ID to Vera Taiga, one 11 days before the deal was signed.

Vera’s mother, Grace Taiga, was the chief lawyer for the Petroleum Ministry at the time.

The government said one payment of $4,969.50 was made on Dec. 30 2009, and a second of $5,000 on Jan. 31 2012.

The payments came to light following a U.S. discovery order in New York, it said. The government also said P&ID officials, and companies linked to it, paid several other officials in relation to the deal.

A message to Vera Taiga on LinkedIn was not immediately returned.

Nigeria’s anti-graft agency charged Grace Taiga last year with accepting bribes and failing to follow protocol related to the contract. She has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial.

Last week, Nigeria suspended the head of the anti-corruption body leading the investigation after the attorney general accused the agency of diverting funds that had been recovered during graft investigations.

Ibrahim Magu, head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has not responded to requests for comment.

P&ID has said Nigeria is engaged in a “manufactured fraud investigation” that has denied its subjects due process.

In a skeleton legal argument, its lawyers said the payments were legitimate and for medical expenses.

The hearing will continue on Tuesday, and the judge’s ruling will determine whether the government can continue its appeal and present its full case of alleged fraud in the English courts. (Reporting By Libby George; Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Barbara Lewis)

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