Nigeria's financial crimes watchdog, investigating a multi-billion dollar scam in a state fuel subsidy scheme, on Friday named three petrol retailing tycoons it wanted for fraud.
Nigerian authorities, including Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, are trying to unravel a web of collusion between fuel importers and corrupt officials that has led to the state paying for nearly double the amount of fuel it received.
The fraudulent deals cost the treasury $6.8 billion over three years, according to one parliamentary probe.
The situation has some parallels with Egypt, which has long suffered from problems in distributing state-subidised fuel.
On Monday last week, Finance Minister Momtaz El-Said claimed that "profiteers and thug" are seizing 40 per cent of the country's subsidised energy, and that fresh cuts
were needed to overcome the fiscal damage.
Nigeria is among the top 10 crude oil exporters in the world but owing to decades of corruption and mismanagement it has to import most of its refined fuel.
The country's finance ministry is refusing to pay subsidies to fuel importers under investigation for fraud.
Last month, it distributed a list of 25 local oil companies that it says collected a combined 61.33 billion naira in subsidies for fuel they never delivered.
"The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has declared three oil marketers implicated in the multi-billion naira fuel subsidy scam wanted," an EFCC statement said.
It named them as Abdul Afeez Olarenwaju Olabisi of Fargo Petroleum and Gas Limited, Abubarka Peters Ali Jeldi, managing director of Nadabo Energy Limited and Ikechukwu Onuabuchi Nworgu of Star Inspection Services Nigeria Limited.
It said they were wanted for "criminal conspiracy, forgery, obtaining money by false pretences and money laundering running into several billions of naira (millions of dollars)", adding that they allegedly obtain fuel subsidy under false pretences, then disappeared when the EFCC launched its investigation.
Oil workers' trade unions, which are largely controlled by the companies, have threatened to strike unless payments to marketers are resumed, although they called one off last month.
President Goodluck Jonathan attempted to remove fuel subsidies in January, but more than a week of protests and strikes prompted their partial reinstatement.
An investigation by a committee set up by the president found that traders fraudulently collected 382 billion naira last year in subsidy payments.
Edited by Ahram Online