* Swiss firms supplied fuel to Nigerian marketers
* Nigerian Commission says traders "not forthcoming"
By Emma Farge and Tim Cocks
GENEVA/ABUJA Dec 10 Nigeria has sought
Switzerland's help in the West African nation's investigation of
a multi-billion dollar fuel subsidy scam, after some Swiss oil
trading houses refused to cooperate with the authorities in
Abuja, Nigerian officials said.
Nigeria opened an investigation in January into fraud in the
administration of the subsidy scheme after an abortive attempt
to remove it by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Ibrahim Lamorde, chairman of Nigeria's Economic and
Financial Crimes Commission which is investigating the fraud,
said a request was sent to Swiss authorities in October after
some trading houses declined to provide documents.
"They are not forthcoming. And most of the information is
not in their Nigerian offices," Lamorde told Reuters on Friday.
He declined to name the companies which did not cooperate.
Lamorde's commission is trying to unpick a web of collusion
between fuel importers and corrupt officials that has led to the
state paying for nearly double the amount of fuel it receives.
Asked if trading houses were themselves complicit in the
fraud, he said: "We just want information to confirm some of the
things the (Nigerian fuel) marketers have said ... whether they
sold such products to the Nigerians or not."
A parliamentary probe put the cost of the fraud to the
Nigerian state at $6.8 billion between 2009 and 2011, almost a
quarter of the national budget.
As a result of the probe some Nigerian fuel importers have
been charged in courts but no one has yet been convicted, and
most of the targets have been relatively low level, rather than
big players. Some are on the run.
The judicial authority for Geneva, home to many private
trading houses, said Switzerland had requested additional
information on the probe from Nigerian authorities.
"This case involves suspected subsidy fraud on imports of
refined products by Nigerian companies. They acquired the oil
from companies based in Geneva," a spokeswoman for the authority
said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
She added that Geneva-based trading houses were not directly
implicated in the Nigerian investigation.
She did not name the companies involved in shipments. Past
suppliers have included many large Swiss-based private trading
houses. Swiss-based Nimex Petroleum was suspended earlier this
year by Nigeria's fuel regulator for failing to provide
documents for shipments.
Nigeria is Africa's top oil exporter but it imports most of
the fuel it consumes because its refineries are ill-maintained
and run at a fraction of their capacity. The government buys the
fuel then sells it to the public at cheap, subsidised prices.
Private Nigeria-based fuel marketers are thought to have
abused the country's subsidy system by misreporting fuel
volumes, for example by reporting the same cargo more than once
in a practice known as "round-tripping."
Some of this fuel was sourced from tankers chartered by
large trading houses anchored offshore Nigeria.
A source at a trading house said some international
commodity trading firms had been asked earlier this year to
provide paperwork of fuel shipments to Nigerian authorities as
part of the probe.
(Reporting by Emma Farge and Tim Cocks in Abuja; editing by