An eight-week trial took place in the High Court in London between January and March 2023, during which the FRN’s substantive application to set aside the US$11 billion arbitral award against it was heard. During the trial, Nigeria put forward its substantive arguments, including that P&ID is guilty of bribery and corruption on an industrial scale, and that the key associates of P&ID suppressed evidence of corruption in the initial arbitral proceedings. FRN also argued that some lawyers associated with P&ID disregarded their professional integrity, including unlawfully obtaining and reviewing the FRN’s privileged documents, in pursuit of a promised ‘pot of gold’.
Mark Howard KC, lead counsel for the FRN, emphasised that during the trial: ‘the people of Nigeria are the true victims here of what is going on, have been the target of corruption and dishonesty on a truly nauseating scale.’ He added Nigeria is ‘a soft target for people like Quinn and Cahill to tap up to make their millions, and no doubt there are many more Cahills, and Quinns, and VR Capital desperate to back them. And they will continue to leach from the people of Nigeria until a fine line is drawn in the sand.’
The resulting judgment, which decided Nigeria’s economic future and was a defining moment for predatory international investors, was handed down on 23 October 2023. Without this judgment, and the decision by Judge Sir Ross Cranston in the interim hearing of 2020 to ensure Nigeria’s appeal was heard at trial, the entire population of Nigeria would have suffered from dire economic consequences. Fundamental damage would have been sustained to the integrity of arbitration as a dispute settlement process.
The judgment delivered by Sir Robin Knowles CBE ruled that Nigeria’s challenge to the arbitration award granted against it was successful, finding that the award had indeed been obtained by fraud and in a way which was ‘contrary to public policy’.
In particular, Mr Justice Knowles found ‘without reluctance’ that P&ID obtained the awards only by ‘practising the most severe abuses of the arbitral process.’ This included P&ID providing and relying on knowingly false evidence before the Tribunal, the continued bribery by P&ID of Grace Taiga during the arbitration, and the improper retention of FRN’s internal legal documents that P&ID and its lawyers had received during the arbitration. The judge found that these actions ‘enabled P&ID to track Nigeria’s internal consideration of merits, strategy, and settlement’ and the arbitration ‘was not a fair fight’.
Mr Justice Knowles found that the arbitral Tribunal in 2017 ‘did what it did with what it had…the fact is that the Arbitration was a shell that got nowhere near the truth.’ In uncovering the facts, Mr Justice Knowles observed that the case had ‘sadly brought together a combination of examples of what some individuals will do for money. Driven by greed and prepared to use corruption; giving no thought to what their enrichment would mean in terms of harm for others. Others that in the present case include the people of Nigeria, already let down in so many ways over the history of this matter by a number of individuals in politics and administration whose duty it was to serve them and protect them.’
The judge confirmed that he would be referring a copy of his judgment to the Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Regulation Authority in relation to the ‘indefensible’ conduct of two of P&ID’s English lawyers in the case, Seamus Andrew and Trevor Burke KC, who had access to, and failed to notify the FRN that they had been provided with, the FRN’s internal privileged documents during and after the arbitration.
President Tinubu applauded Nigeria’s landmark victory, noting that the judgment proves ‘conclusively that nation states will no longer be held hostage by economic conspiracies between private firms and solitarily corrupt officials who conspire to extort and indebt the very nations they swear to defend and protect. Today’s victory is not for Nigeria alone. It is a victory for our long exploited continent and for the developing world at large, which has for too long been on the receiving end of unjust economic malpractice and overt exploitation.’
This triumphant outcome is a decisive victory for the people of Nigeria who stood to lose over US$11 billion, and for the Nigerian administration which has now reached a milestone in its mission to challenge the scourge of corruption. The judgment also serves as a damning indictment of predatory international investors, who should now rightfully be deterred from preying upon Nigeria and other developing nations to satisfy their greed.
The full judgment can be read here.
This all began from a deal between Nigeria and P&ID which was revealed to be embroiled in corruption, collusion, and lies.
The contract in question, the gas supply and processing agreement (GSPA), was awarded to P&ID by Nigeria to build a sophisticated gas processing plant in the Calabar Region. P&ID was run by a failed music producer, Michael (‘Mick’) Quinn, and his business partner, Brendan Cahill.
Two years later, as work on the gas processing plant had yet to begin, the agreement collapsed. This led P&ID to launch private arbitration proceedings against Nigeria. Following a lengthy legal process with an ad-hoc arbitral tribunal in London, in 2017 Nigeria was ordered to pay P&ID US$6.6 billion in damages with interest accruing from 20 March 2013 at a rate of seven per cent, which equates to more than US$1 million a day. It now stands at over US$11 billion.
Nigeria was faced with a situation where a BVI shell company with no apparent assets could be paid over seven times the nation’s health budget and almost a third of its total budget for 2023. The company is now registered in the British Virgin Islands, with no apparent assets other than the arbitration award against Nigeria. P&ID is backed by vulture fund VR Advisory Services which operates by preying on distressed debt – even if it belongs to a nation which a struggling population, high unemployment, and rising inflation – and profits from their plight.
In 2019, Nigeria applied to set aside the arbitration award, and challenged its enforcement on the basis of evidence that the award and the contract itself had been procured by way of a massive fraud on Nigeria. Nigeria sought what was described as an ‘unprecedented’ extension of time (well beyond the 28-day time limit) to apply to set aside the award, as well as seeking relief from sanctions to rely on new evidence in resisting P&ID’s enforcement action.
On 4 September 2020, Sir Ross Cranston, sitting as a Judge of the High Court, granted Nigeria an extension of time to pursue the application to set aside, and relief from sanctions to rely on new evidence to resist the application to enforce. He found that there was a ‘strong prima facie case’ that the Awards were procured by fraud.
Following the judgment of Sir Ross Cranston, Nigeria continued to build its case against P&ID and applied for disclosure order of documents around the world:
In October 2021, P&ID revealed that it has been in possession of numerous documents which might be privileged and confidential to the FRN. These included documents from the time of entry into the GSPA and legal advice provided to Nigeria as to how to defend the arbitration. These internal legal documents had been shared with P&ID representatives, including Mr Seamus Andrew and Mr Trevor Burke KC, among others.
Between December 2021 and October 2022 Nigeria filed applications with the Commercial Court in London for further disclosure and related orders, and a notice to prove documents. Various orders were, including an order that P&ID and others provide disclosure of certain WhatsApp/SMS threads.
The documents gathered in England and other jurisdictions were used by FRN to ‘throw relevant light on the case’.
The trial took place over eight weeks between January and March 2023 in the High Court in London.
On 23 October 2023, Mr Justice Knowles handed down a landmark judgment, finding that Nigeria had been successful in its challenge to set aside the US$11 billion award on the grounds of fraud. It was noted by Mr Justice Knowles that: ‘It has been disclosure or discovery of documents that has enabled the truth to be reached in this case (…) The disclosure secured from P&ID and third parties through court processes has been remarkable and crucial (…) In all the recent debates about where disclosure or discovery matters, this case stands a strong example for the answer that it does.’