How Two Irish Businessmen Almost Took Nigeria for $11 Billion

The next step was to draw a proposal for the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the department that oversees Nigeria’s considerable fossil-fuel reserves. P.&I.D. would construct the $500 million facility. Nigeria would pipe in wet gas at no cost to the company. Then P.&I.D. would process it and pipe out the lean gas at no charge to the country. But in return, the company would retain the valuable byproducts of the gas-leaning process, like propane and butane, which it could sell at a profit. If Nigeria backed out at any point before the full 20-year term of the contract, it could be held liable for damages. Taken as a whole, it looked like an enormous commitment for Nigeria, one that might be met with skepticism when it finally met the eyes of the ministry’s lawyers.

Around this time, a lawyer named Grace Taiga landed a new job at the ministry, as legal director. This was fortunate, because Quinn and Cahill had known Taiga for years, ever since she was at the Ministry of Defense and they were businessmen who occasionally won contracts from it. For about a year leading up to the submission of P.&I.D.’s proposal, Quinn and Cahill sent Taiga and one of her daughters just a bit more than $25,000 in incremental payments. Quinn also took Taiga’s colleague, a Ministry employee named Taofiq Tijani, to dinner at Chopsticks, a Chinese restaurant in Abuja. The cost of that dinner was recorded in accounting books as $2,800. (A Chinese dinner does not cost $2,800 in Abuja.) Then, shortly before the contract was signed, Cahill sent another $5,000 from a bank in Cyprus to Taiga’s daughter’s account, which was coded as a “commission payment.”

Taiga sent the contract to her boss, Rilwanu Lukman, the minister of petroleum resources. It wasn’t much: 20 pages of mostly boilerplate language, drawn up on the ministry’s green-bordered stationery. It was more like an outline than a fully developed proposal for a multimillion-dollar gas deal. But Taiga assured Lukman in a memo that it would be “a leap forward” for Nigeria. On Jan. 11, 2010, Lukman, Quinn and Taiga signed their names. The deal was done.

Days later, a man named Neil Hitchcock — P.&I.D.’s only full-time employee — wrote to Cahill, saying he needed $1.5 million to begin clearing the ground for the facility. But P.&I.D. did not have $1.5 million. The plan had been to raise capital for the project on the basis of the signed 20-year contract, then bring on engineers and laborers. This was how they’d always operated in Nigeria.

In June, Quinn opened his morning paper to an unwelcome twist. The oil-drilling company that Nigeria had promised would supply the wet gas had decided to keep it; the gas turned out to be useful for maintaining pressure inside the wells. Quinn might have picked up the phone and protested to his friends inside the government, but most of them were gone. A new president had recently come into office. Lukman had been replaced. In February 2011, Hitchcock sent a text message that suggested the company was in dire straits. “In view of the rapidly deteriorating situation here, I see no option but to liquidate some P.&I.D. assets,” he wrote. “With your approval, I propose to sell the Honda Civic.” Quinn emailed the new president, Goodluck Jonathan, but his appeal went nowhere.