The RCMP are on the hunt to recover cash and shares stemming from an international bribery scandal, but some of the proceeds have already been spent – some on a house, investments, and a car for a teenager.
Griffiths Energy International Inc. pleaded guilty to corruption charges in January, and now authorities are after the proceeds of the crime. According to court filings, Griffiths Energy paid Nouracham Niam, the wife of Chad’s former ambassador to Canada, $2-million (U.S.) in cash after the company secured oil and gas licences in the African country. Griffiths Energy also sold her so-called founders shares, now worth about $10-million, for a fraction of a penny each.
Authorities have made progress, this week executing a search warrant and seizing Griffiths Energy shares from law firm Norton Rose, which was holding Ms. Niam’s and an associate’s shares, according to court documents. And authorities know where some of the money was spent.
Ms. Niam said about $1-million of the $2-million cash payment went to pay off the matrimonial home, according to an interview she did with Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, the law firm that conducted an investigation of the company’s payments. “Niam indicated she had title to the home and the Ambassador had no interest in the property,” says an affidavit sworn by RCMP Constable Chad Babin.
Mahamoud Bechir, the former ambassador, said in an interview with Kris Robidoux, the Gowlings lawyer who spearheaded Griffiths Energy’s internal investigation, that he is “indirectly getting the benefit” of Ms. Niam’s success and “enjoying it,” according to another court document. He said, for example, he did not have to buy a car for one of his teenaged sons because Ms. Niam picked up the tab.
Griffiths Energy paid the $2-million to Chad Oil Consulting LLC, a company owned by Ms. Niam, in February, 2011. The former ambassador said his wife set up a second company, Nourmac LLC, to avoid “all eggs being in one basket,” one of the documents says.
Nourmac owns a “huge house” in an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C., Mr. Bechir said. Ms. Niam combined the existing home with adjacent land and is in the process of a $1.3-million remodelling project, he said, according to the exhibit filed in court.
The home, he said, will be a gathering place for his family. They have nine children, ranging from two years old to 18. Four were born in the U.S., and one in Canada, court documents say. Mr. Bechir said he expects his kids to continue school in the U.S.
Mr. Bechir, who was removed from his most recent posting in South Africa after Griffiths Energy settled its bribery case by agreeing to pay a $10.35-million (Canadian) fine, also borrowed money from his wife. Ms. Niam loaned him $100,000, which he paid back with 5-per-cent interest. Another $30,000 loan has not been repaid, Ms. Niam told Gowlings.
Brad Griffiths, a high-flying investment banker who died in a boating accident in July, 2011, promised Ms. Niam the $2-million and a chance to buy founders shares at a dinner meeting at the ambassador’s house in 2009, according to the affidavit. When Ms. Niam told Mr. Bechir about the planned payment, he said he thought it was “a fairy tale” that wouldn’t happen, according to one of the court filings.
The former diplomat said he “never would have risked using the Embassy’s name if I believed the $2-million offer was real.” He argued his actions – arranging meetings with Chad’s president and officials – was part of his duty and he took no “extraordinary steps.” His wife’s deal was a “burden,” Mr. Bechir said.
And if his wife wasn’t involved, perhaps he “may have even been more vigorous” in supporting Griffiths Energy, he said.
The RCMP continue to search for other founders shares tied to the case.