NEW YORK. International Telephone and Telegraph Corp. has made questionable payments of millions of dollars to gain huge telecommunications sales contracts in Nigeria, according to ITT sources.
Central to the Nigerian payments is a politically powerful businessman named Alhaji Chief M.K.O. Abiola, who, sources say, has received large payments and has distributed some of the funds to Nigerian Government officials.
Chief MKO Abiola:
ITT sources say some of the millions of dollars allegedly paid to him by the company have been spread among government officials in the ruling govt of Nigeria (NPN). One American expert on Nigeria describes Abiola as “a very key person of the ruling party – NPN.”
The Nigerian payments have been made through an ITT subsidiary in Switzerland, ITT Standard S.A. Sources say Swiss secrecy laws have kept records of the Nigerian payments out of reach of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. These sources also note that money brought into Nigeria would have to be declared under that country’s tax laws.
These payments could involve violations of American securities laws and antibribery statutes – The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The allegations of the Nigerian payments come at a time when ITT is concluding its third internal investigation of questionable payments in about five years.
Under the terms of the 1975 contracts with the Nigerian government, ITT was to be paid $160 million for providing Nigeria with a modern telephone system, including telephone exchanges, central office equipment and personnel training. The telecommunication deal is one of the biggest contractual packages ever handled by ITT.
The equipment is manufactured by ITT European subsidiaries, including Bell Telephone Manufacturing S.A., Belgium; Standard Elektrik Lorenz AG, West Germany; Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd., Britain, and Fabbrica Apparecchiature Per Cumunicazioni Electtriche Standard, Italy.
Most of the equipment is then sold, including mark-up, to Standard S.A., the ITT Swiss subsidiary, sources say. The Swiss company, in turn, adds another mark-up and bills the Nigerian government.
The sources allege that a portion of the money paid through the ITT Swiss subsidiary by the Nigerian government finds its way to Abiola and from him into secret bank accounts maintained there for other Nigerian officials.
So-called “escalation payments” have increased the original $160 million contract package by at least $100 million. But ITT says there’s nothing unusual about dramatically escalating charges.
By all accounts, including those of a senior ITT official in an on-the-record statement, Abiola has been paid lavishly to represent ITT interests in Nigeria. One highly placed ITT source said that he knew that Abiola recently had $8 million in an account at a London bank, as well as funds deposited in Swiss accounts.
During an interview, Aibel said: “All of the top management, including our board of directors, are familiar with the arrangements with Chief Abiola. And they’ve been a matter of some scrutiny and concern. We’re watching them. We pay him a lot of money. We’ve gotten a big benefit out of the arrangement.
Howard J Aibel:
Howard J. Aibel, ITT’s general counsel and senior vice president, as chief internal policeman for ITT, states unequivocally that there have been no questionable payments and says that the ITT-Abiola relationship is perfectly proper.
Abiola’s precise employment status at ITT is difficult to pin down, however. For example, Juan C. Capello, ITT’s director of public information, says Abiola is a “Consultant” to ITT. This suggests that Abiola wears two hats — one as chairman or employe of ITT, the other as a consultant to the same company.
One thing is clear, however — Abiola, who describes himself in the 1971 article as being extremely hard-pressed financially through most of the 1960s, has gained immense wealth during his decade with ITT. He also has acquired the honorary Nigerian title of “chief,” recently.
Aibel, who says he is charged with investigating and rooting out illegal or questionable payments, says he sees no indication that Abiola is a conduit for payoffs.
“We believe very strongly that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Chief Abiola has paid any government officials anything in connection with these contracts,” Aibel said during an interview. “He has given us a commitment that none of his compensation would be paid to anybody in government. He has assured us he would act in conformance with the [Nigerian] law. He has agreed that he would give us certification of his compliance with that provision as well as others at our request, and he has done so. He has agreed that he will declare his commissions received as income and pay taxes and provide us with certification that that’s the case. And he has done so.”
ITT declined to produce these documents for review or to say how much money Abiola has been paid. ITT spokesman Cappello quoted general counsel Aibel as saying: “These certificates exist. But since they are private documents between the company and an outside consultant, we feel it would be improper to disseminate copies.”
follow us on twitter @wahalatoday and facebook @wahalaonline
Source: New York times [edited]