Lakshmi Mittal disappoints with court no-show

Vol 16, PW 16 (07 Mar 13) People & Policy

If you think the Indian oil industry is corrupt try working in Nigeria.

This week steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal was due to give evidence at the High Court in London over claims he broke a promise to pay hefty commission payments to his former friend and millionaire rice baron Moni Verma for winning exploration permits OPL-279 and OPL 285 in the deep waters offshore Nigeria. But at the last minute on March 6, a joint statement from lawyers said the two men had reached an out-of-court settlement and would not comment further.

Disappointed journalists wanted Mittal to take the stand and reveal all about the sleazy relationship he and Verma enjoyed with former Nigerian president General Olusegun Obasanjo. Luckily much of the dirt is already out in the open, thanks to leaked court papers.

These describe how Mittal and Verma - born in Mali but with powerful business contacts in Nigeria - agreed over a series of private dinners to leverage Verma’s relationship with Obasanjo, who he’s known since 2001. Verma alleges Mittal asked him to approach Obasanjo's office directly in return for commission of between 5% and 15%, possibly more.

Mittal denies this, saying he knew Obasanjo already, and did not need Verma's help. Court documents disclose the two men flew by Mittal's private jet to meet Obasanjo at the Westin Palace hotel in Madrid in July 2005 and that the Nigerian leader later invited them to his residence in Abuja for a meeting three months later.

Verma alleges he was later cut out of the deal and that Mittal would not have won the two blocks without his intervention. Obasanjo meanwhile is fighting separate allegations in Nigeria that his office accepted $100m in bribes from Halliburton.