Chadian Oil Rights Spur U.S. Forfeiture Action

     WASHINGTON (CN) – U.S. authorities filed a $34 million civil forfeiture action Tuesday stemming from corporate shares a Canadian oil company used to bribe a Chadian diplomat.
     While serving as Chad’s ambassador to the United States and Canada between 2004 and 2012, Mahamoud Adam Bechir agreed to use his positions ensure that Canada-based Griffiths Energy International Inc. would win oil-development rights in Chad, according to the complaint.
     Deputy Chief of Mission Youssouf Hamid Takane participated in the 2009 deal as well, U.S. authorities say.
     They claim that Griffiths Energy transferred a total of 4 million shares – representing approximately 10 percent of the company’s common shares – to Bechir and Takane’s wives that October.
     Some of the shares were also put in the name of Adoum Hassan, an associate of Bechir and Niam, according to the complaint.
     After Griffiths Energy secured the rights in 2011, it transferred $2 million in consulting fees to Chad Oil Consultants, the shell company created by Bechir’s wife, Nouracham Bechir Niam, the complaint states.
     U.S. authorities say that the funds were laundered and eventually transferred to Bechir’s bank account in South Africa, where the 52-year-old is now serving as Chad’s ambassador.
     After Griffiths pleaded guilty in 2013 to bribing Bechir, a Canadian court fined the company 10.35 million in Canadian dollars
     U.S. authorities says Niam created Chad Oil Consultants just 10 days after Griffiths backed out of an agreement to pay Ambassade du Tchad, a company Bechir created, on advice from its legal team.
     “Upon information and belief, Niam created Chad Oil Consultants LLC for the purpose of executing the unlawful agreement to obtain the $2 million payment from Griffiths Energy and for the purpose of concealing her husband’s role in the unlawful agreement,” the complaint states.
     Under the agreement for the purchase of Griffiths Energy shares, Niam and Hassan each received 1.6 million shares while Takane’s wife, Ikram Mahamat Saleh, received 800,000. Eventually Bechir and Niam transferred Hassan’s shares to Niam, giving her 3.2 million shares in total, the United States claims.
     Shortly after completing the transaction, Griffiths Energy secured control of two oil blocks in Chad.
     In April 2014, international energy company Glencore purchased Caracal Energy – the new name for Griffiths Energy – at the price of £5.50 per share. This meant the shares in Niam owned, which she originally purchased for $3,000, were now worth a total of $27.2 million and the shares in Saleh’s name, originally purchased for $745, were now worth $6.8 million, according to the complaint.
     The United States seeks the forfeiture of the $34 million value of these shares under violations of United States and international bribery laws.
     In a separate civil filing from 2014, the United States sought the forfeiture of $100,000 in allegedly laundered funds related to the $2 million consulting fee.
     A spokesman for Glencore emphasized only that “Glencore is not a party to these proceedings.”
     “We are aware of the ongoing litigation relating to events that took place prior to Glencore’s acquisition of Caracal,” the spokesman said in an email.

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