A Paris court Wednesday fined French aeronautics and defence group, Safran, 500,000 Euros ($630,000) for inducing top government officials in Nigeria to award it the $214 million national identity card project contract in 2001, the Parisian-based newspaper, Le Monde, reports.
The alleged offences were committed by a former electronics firm, Sagem, which won the Nigerian contract. The company merged with another firm, SNECMA in 2005, to form Safran.
The judge, Renaud Van Rymbeke, upheld the prosecutors’ submission that between 2000 and 2003, the company executives bribed the officials, including the then Minister of Internal Affairs, Chief Sunday Afolabi, and his successor, Alhaji Mohammed Shata, and former Minister of Labour, Hussain Akwanga to win the contract to produce 70 million national identity cards.
The judge, however, rejected the plea to convict former commercial engineer of Sagem in Nigeria, Jean-Pierre Delarue, 65, then a sales manager with the company in Nigeria, and Francois Perrachon, 57, then the company’s director for identification systems in Paris, because the prosecutors had not proved that they “had personal knowledge of the facts of corruption.”
He dismissed the request to impose a suspended sentence of between 15 and 18 months in prison on them or fine them 15,000 Euros each. Safran, 30 per cent state-owned, said it would appeal, adding, “Safran would like to point out that it is deeply attached to the strict respect of anti-corruption rules.”
Foreign corruption rulings against big French companies are rare in France. A report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that was leaked in July said French authorities lacked the resources to fight possible corruption in big export contracts.
Prosecutors had originally sought to have the Safran case dismissed, but did not lodge any formal request at the trial in June. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2001 had accused SAGEM executives of bribing the government officials ranging from 24,000 to 40,000 Euros to win the $214 million identity card contract.
The late Afolabi, who had championed the national identity card project for the 2003 general election, was arrested by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) on December 5, 2003, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Shortly after his arrest, Afolabi was arraigned along with Shata, Akwanga and others for demanding bribes of about $2 million from Sagem, in addition to receiving various gifts, including Rolex watches, to award the contract to the French firm.
He and the other accused were granted bail on December 31, 2003. Afolabi died of cancer in London in May 2004. In June 2004, the court dropped all charges against him.