Chad’s former ambassador to Canada and the United States said he has been fired from diplomatic service following allegations that his wife was bribed by Calgary-based Griffiths Energy International Inc. to help the company secure rights to lucrative oil and gas properties.
In an emotional interview with The Globe and Mail, and a rambling six-page letter, Mahamoud Adam Bechir “regretfully” declared “an end … forever to my 20 years of uninterrupted service and political career” in Chad.
Mr. Bechir said he was relieved of his duties as the country’s ambassador to South Africa on Saturday after Griffiths Energy agreed to pay a fine of $10.35-million in an Alberta bribery case that centred on the payment of $2-million (U.S.) in cash to his wife, Nouracham Niam, through her company.
The ambassador vigorously defended his wife as the “the most honest and the most God-fearing person.” Ms. Niam had no improper influence in Chad’s decision in January, 2011, to grant Griffiths Energy lucrative rights to exploit a handful of oil and gas concessions, because there were no competing suitors, he said.
According to documents supplied by Mr. Bechir, Ms. Niam and her consulting company, Chad Oil Consultants LLC, were given official status by the country’s petroleum ministry in January, 2011, to seek investors to develop the country’s rich southern oil fields.
“The deal was done in the daylight. It was not under the table,” he said. “The only guilt – her fault – was that she had to be the ambassador’s wife.”
Mr. Bechir argued there is no evidence Griffiths Energy bribed him. Further, he argues it is possible the payment to his wife would not even be to his benefit. “It depends. Not necessarily. I might benefit because she is my wife, but I might not. Maybe she’ll get richer and she be on her own,” he said.
The Griffiths Energy settlement is a landmark case for Canada, which has come under international criticism for its lax record of enforcement of foreign bribery legislation. Canada’s expertise in mining and oil and gas is increasingly drawing domestic companies to poorly regulated and corrupt regimes such as Chad. Griffiths Energy is the second company to pay a multimillion-dollar fine under Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act since the RCMP set up special anti-corruption teams. This case was brought to the attention of police by a new slate of company managers who, in 2011, uncovered the payments to Ms. Niam.
In 2009, Ms. Niam also bought so-called founders’ shares from Griffiths Energy that are now believed to be worth millions, which federal prosecutors are trying to recover.
The former ambassador believes Griffiths Energy’s new management team has ulterior motives, arguing they want to “steal my wife’s shares.”
The Crown, not Griffiths Energy, is pursuing the forfeiture of the shares. Mr. Bechir says he will fight to keep them. “With nail and teeth,” he said. “I’m ready to go to the international court.”
Mr. Bechir said his wife was involved in a number of business ventures and he described the $2-million cash payment from Griffiths as his wife’s “most successful deal.” It was her “absolute right” to invest in Griffiths Energy shares that could be worth substantially more in the future as the company steps up oil and gas production in the region, he said.
“If the company becomes so successful that her shares today [are] worth more … and subject to increase up to hundreds of millions as the company starts production, what is wrong with that. Allah even gives more, gives paradise!!!!”
Federal prosecutors have initiated proceedings to force Ms. Niam to forfeit the $2-million payment. In addition, they want to reclaim more than $20-million of Griffiths shares that were sold for less than a penny apiece in 2009 to Ms. Niam, the wife of another Chad diplomat and a man believed to be a friend.
Following a report in The Globe and Mail that prosecutors have been unable to locate the $2-million paid to Ms. Niam’s company, Mr. Bechir said his wife is willing to open her bank accounts to help track the money.
Mr. Bechir, a former pharmacist who attended schools in Africa, Britain and California, was appointed Chad’s ambassador to Washington in 2004 by the country’s long-serving president Idriss Deby. His predecessor was removed from office after he criticised Mr. Deby. During his time in Washington, Mr. Bechir wore multiple hats as ambassador to half a dozen countries including, Canada, Brazil and Cuba.
Mr. Bechir was recently transferred as Chad’s ambassador to South Africa, having left his post as ambassador to Canada at the end of 2012.
Griffiths Energy declined to comment.