* Lawmaker blew lid on $6.8 bln fuel subsidy scam
* Charged with accepting bribe from oil tycoon
* Lawyer says case is conspiracy by oil firms, officials
By Camillus Eboh
ABUJA, Feb 1 A lawmaker who led a corruption
probe into Nigeria's fuel subsidy last year was charged on
Friday with accepting a $3 million bribe from a billionaire oil
tycoon to remove his company from the list of fraudsters.
Nigerian legislator Farouk Lawan blew the lid on a $6.8
billion scam in a state fuel subsidy, exposing a web of
fraudulent transactions that enabled corrupt officials and fuel
marketers to grow rich, often without delivering a drop of fuel.
He pleaded not guilty in court on Friday to four counts of
bribery brought against him by the federal government and his
supporters say he is being targetted by those implicated in his
Africa's largest crude exporter has to import 80 percent of
its fuel needs because its refineries are in disrepair. The
government pays a subsidy on the fuel, which breeds corruption
and is the single biggest drain of the federal budget.
Lawan's arrest risks discrediting his findings, although two
subsequent independent probes have come to similar conclusions.
He is accused of taking $500,000 - part of an agreed $3
million bribe - from Femi Otedola, one of Nigeria's richest men,
to keep his oil firm Zenon Petroleum out of his report.
"You Farouk Lawan ... in the course of your official duty
corruptly asked for the sum of $3 million for yourself from Femi
Otedola ... to afterwards show favour to Femi Otedola," charges
read in the Abuja High Court said.
The judge ordered that Lawan be remanded in police custody
until a bail hearing on Feb. 8.
Another member of Lawan's parliamentary fuel subsidy
committee, Emenalo Boniface, is charged on three counts for also
demanding the bribe from Otedola, who will not face prosecution
because he told the authorities about the deal.
Lawan's supporters say this is evidence he was a set up by
President Goodluck Jonathan's administration, in collusion with
Otedola, because they were embarrassed by his findings.
Lawan's lawyer said last year that the case was a conspiracy
brought by fraudulent oil marketers and powerful government
officials who wanted his report discredited. He said Lawan
accepted the bribe only to expose Otedola, saying he disclosed
the payment to parliament and left the cash there.
If Lawan is found guilty it could end any attempt to seek
justice in the subsidy scandal, an outcome likely to please
Nigeria's powerful oil marketers and some corrupt government
officials, but enrage the public.
The report fingered several fuel companies, including a
local unit of ExxonMobil, as being involved and called
for the board of the state oil firm, including its head Oil
Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, to resign.
Lawan's report was scathing about some of Nigeria's most
powerful people - few would dare take on the oil minister - and
was an embarrassment to Jonathan, whose office pledged to
prosecute those implicated but urged patience.