A French firm, Safran, has been fined about N100 million (500,000 euros) by a court in Paris for bribing public officials in Nigeria to secure the  N33.5 billion contract for the printing of more than 70 million identity cards between 2000 and 2003.

Safran, a French aeronautics and defence group, was found guilty by the investigating magistrates, of giving bribes to Nigerian officials that helped it win the contract.

The company is partly owned by France,which owns a 30 per cent stake.

The court found that SAGEM (Société d’Applications Générales de l’Électricité et de la Mécanique, translated to mean Company of General Applications of Electricity and Mechanics, a company that merged with SNECMA to form Safran in 2005, paid bribes worth between N4.8 million ($30,000) to N80 million ($500,000) to Nigerian officials between 2000 and 2003 to secure a 171 million euro contract.

The court condemned the company for endorsing the payments, but dropped charges against two former SAGEM executives: Jean-Pierre Delarue, then a sales manager in Nigeria, and François Perrachon, the former director for identification systems.

Prosecutors had sought a suspended sentence of up to 18 months and fines of 15,000 euros each for the two officials.

The prosecution alleged that Sagem paid millions of dollars as bribes to high-ranking Nigerian officials including the former Minister of Internal Affairs, late Chief Sunday Afolabi.

In reaction to the fine, Safran said it would appeal, and further reiterated its commitment to anti-corruption rules.

The company said, “Safran would like to point out that it is deeply attached to the strict respect of anti-corruption rules.”

Prosecutors had originally sought to have the Safran case dismissed, but did not lodge any formal request at the trial in June. The case came to global focus in 2005, when former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo said Sagem paid bribes and presented gifts, including Rolex watches to Nigerian officials to secure the contract.

Afolabi, who was appointed Minister of the Interior in 1999, was in charge of the Identity Card project. He had noted that the cards, to be issued to Nigerians would be used for the 2003 Federal and State elections. Afolabi was arrested on December 5, 2003, by the  Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, on allegations of corruption.

In December 2003 Afolabi stood trial with his successor in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Mr. Mohammed Shata, former Labour Minister, Hussain Akwanga and others on charges that they had sought bribes worth about N320 million ($2million) from the French firm, Sagem in connection with the $214million contract to produce identity cards.

All the accused persons were granted bail on December 31, 2003.

Afolabi died of cancer in London in May 2004. In June 2004, the court dropped all charges against him.

Like all members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, France is part of the convention against the bribery of foreign officials, which requires that the practice be a criminal offence.

A report by Reuters said foreign corruption rulings against big French companies are rare in France.

It said a report from the OECD that was leaked in July said French authorities lacked the resources to fight possible corruption in big export contracts.



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