For a man whose diplomatic career has been destroyed by a corruption scandal, Mahamoud Bechir is looking remarkably confident these days. He’s already plotting his revenge against the Calgary oil company that admitted to bribing his wife.
Mr. Bechir and his wife, Nouracham Niam, are among the key figures at the heart of a corruption case that led to a historic $10.35-million fine against Griffiths Energy International Inc. last month. Yet instead of slipping quietly away, he remains defiant and determined to mount a counterattack.
A week after he was sacked from his job as Chad’s ambassador to South Africa, the disgraced diplomat is still being chauffeured around Pretoria in a Mercedes-Benz limousine, and he has begun to plan a legal campaign against Griffiths Energy and its top executives.
“They damaged Chad’s reputation and violated Chad’s laws by corrupting an official, according to them,” Mr. Bechir said in an interview at the Chadian embassy, where he remains comfortably ensconced until his replacement is named.
“I will make public opinion so that Chad will not let Griffiths get away with this,” he said. “I’m a free man now, and I will mobilize people to put pressure on the government to press charges against this company.”
Alan Bayless, a spokesman for Griffiths Energy, said Sunday that executives were unavailable to comment.
Mr. Bechir, a former ambassador to Canada and the United States who helped Griffiths Energy gain some of its first high-level contacts in Chad in 2008 and 2009, said he sees no contradiction between his protests of innocence and his insistence that the Calgary-based company has admitted its own guilt by accepting the hefty fine.
He is convinced he can legally and politically punish the company that paid $2-million (U.S.) to his wife for her role in helping it win the rights to lucrative oil and gas properties in the impoverished West African nation. He wants to pursue Griffiths Energy not only in Chad but also in Canada, where he aims to file a defamation suit.
“I think they miscalculated,” he said. “They thought this poor guy would go away and hide.”
If he can persuade Chad’s judicial system to take action against Griffiths Energy, he says the company should pay a fine of $300-million to $400-million, which he calculates as being equal to its total investment in Chad so far.
That might be a tall order. He acknowledges that he was fired from his ambassadorial post last Saturday by Chad’s president, Idriss Deby, because of the bribery scandal. The President is still refusing to take his calls – even though they are cousins, he said.
“I don’t blame him,” Mr. Bechir said. “I think he’s sending a very strong signal that corruption is not tolerated in the government of Chad.”
Canadian prosecutors are trying to force Mr. Bechir’s wife to forfeit the $2-million payment. They also want her and two friends to give up millions of dollars worth of Griffiths Energy shares that they acquired for a nominal price in 2009.
Last week, in a landmark bribery case in an Alberta court, Griffiths Energy agreed to pay a $10.35-million fine – the largest that any Canadian company has paid since the RCMP created specialized teams to investigate foreign corruption cases.
The RCMP got involved after the company reported evidence that its founding executives had made payments to a company controlled by Ms. Niam in the form of “consulting contracts” in exchange for her help in securing the oil and gas rights.
Ms. Niam, who currently lives in the U.S. state of Maryland, persuaded Chad’s oil ministry to give up its focus on huge multinational investors and to consider dealing with smaller companies such as Griffiths Energy instead, Mr. Bechir said.
“She opened the doors. I think she deserves her millions. She got $2-million, but Griffiths got way more.”
Mr. Bechir said he plans to keep his post at Chad’s embassy in Pretoria until his replacement is appointed, which could take weeks. He’s working on a major expansion of the embassy, after helping the government acquire two new properties in the city last year.
He doesn’t expect to continue his career in government when he returns to Chad. But he is unruffled by the prospects of unemployment. He could easily switch to a job in business, or teaching, he said. Or he could look to his wife for help. “Maybe I’ll ask her for a job,” he said, bursting into peals of laughter.