The old Nigerian letters scam has
morphed into countless Nigerian/Russian/Kuwaiti/Rwandan/Iraqi email
scams that flood mail boxes almost as regularly as the on-line Viagra
offers and hot stock tips. As bemusing as many of the scams are to
read, they’ve become a bit repetitive, so it’s nice to see a news story
that should add a little topical substance to the next round.

Yes, there really are hundreds of millions of missing dollars somewhere in Nigeria. The BBC reports
the money goes missing at an extraordinary rate somewhere between the
oil companies paying tax to the Nigerian central bank and the central
bank receiving the money.

The discrepancies – totalling hundreds of millions of
dollars – have been discovered by a government-backed anti-corruption
agency. Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI)
looked at payments from 1999 to 2004. Its report stopped short of
saying what might have happened to the cash.

“We found some
strange situations,” said Chris Nurse, managing director of audit firm
Hart, which carried out the study for the NEITI. “For the year 2002,
there were US$250m (£142m) that the companies say they paid to the
central bank that do not appear in central bank records.”

Mr
Nurse added that there were also discrepancies between figures provided
by different arms of the government, and that accounting standards were
low across the board.

Which is putting it gently.
Nigeria rejoices in the title of the world’s sixth most corrupt country
– one can only imagine how much more interesting such a study would be
to compile compared with, say boring old OECD tax rates.

I can
see the email now: Dear Sir, I am an employee of the Nigerian Central
Bank. I have discovered $250 million in unaccounted oil company tax
payments, as you may have heard on the BBC…

Peter Fray

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