Politics & Government

A look at the Nigerian complaint against Lawal

LAGOS, Nigeria — A six-count criminal complaint filed in Nigeria eight years ago charges Kase Lawal with joining in a plot to forge papers in the name of a local company, win offshore-drilling approvals and illegally pump and sell more than 10 million barrels of crude oil.

Lawal, the chairman and executive officer of Houston-based CAMAC International Corp., is named in all six counts of an amended complaint filed in 2001 in the High Court of Lagos, along with five other individuals and three companies. The alleged crimes occurred while Lawal was trying to build CAMAC into a player in the global oil industry.

The complaint accuses all the defendants of forging letters from 1990 to 2000 under the letterhead of Cavendish Petroleum Resources Ltd., a Nigerian company that CAMAC affiliates were helping to develop a leased offshore oil field.

In 1999 and 2000, it says, they forged papers seeking government approval for an oil field development plan, summarizing its monthly production figures and nominating tankers that would carry the oil.

Between December 1999 and October 2000, the complaint charges, the defendants illegally pumped and sold 10.7 million barrels of crude oil, cheating the government out of $1.9 million in royalties.

Along with Lawal, the complaint names Cavendish exploration manager Billi Follahan; four other individuals; CAMAC subsidiaries Allied Energy Resources Ltd. and CAMAC International Nigeria Ltd.; and Ireland-based Tuskar Resources Ltd.

In interviews with McClatchy, Lawal denied wrongdoing and gave a different version of events.

He said that when seismic tests from 1991-93 showed that the Cavendish's oil field's production would be ``very, very marginal,'' Conoco Co., another partner, dropped out of the deal.

Lawal said that the field would produce ``at best, about 2,000 barrels per day'' and a maximum of about 400,000 barrels of oil. Lawal said he agreed to go forward at Cavendish's request, but brought in Dublin-based Tuskar ``to spread the risk.''

Even before production started, Lawal said, Cavendish began to demand bigger monthly payments from CAMAC and Tuskar and, when they refused, ``a blackmail started.''

Lawal said he suspects the police were ``unduly influenced'' by Cavendish's patriarch, Mai Deribe, who since has died. A lawyer for Deribe's children declined to comment.

Tuskar's statements to its shareholders in 1998 and 1999 were more optimistic. In 1998, the company said the shallow-water oil field was ``exceeding expectations,'' with two wells testing at a combined flow rate of 9,500 barrels per day and that experts estimated it contained about 15 million barrels of ``proved and probable reserves.'' In 2000, Tuskar said it was producing about 4,000 barrels per day and that two more wells could yield 6,900 barrels per day.

Later that year, however, Cavendish refused to apply for an export permit, Tuskar collapsed and charges were filed.

Lawal said CAMAC and Tuskar each lost about $17 million on the venture.

(Connors is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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