NIGERIA’S federal government has controversially awarded a major maritime contract to Frabemar UK a company that has been indicted for high-level corruption and embezzlement in DR Congo between 2012 and 2015.
Frabemar UK is the technical partner to the consortium MedTech and Rozi International, handpicked by transport minister Rotimi Ameachi, to handle Nigeria’s International Cargo Tracking Note (ICTN). It is unclear if the Nigerian government conducted a background check on the company awarded the security-sensitive contract and decided to ignore it, or if Frabemar is being used as a front for a powerful individual or group.
Owned by Franco Bernardini, Frabemar SRL, a subsidiary within the Frabemar group, is in the business of pre-shipment inspection, in Genoa Italy. Controversially, the company was indicted in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali for corruption and embezzlement of public funds in 2012 and 2015 respectively.
According to documents and publications sourced from the two countries, Frabemar’s contracts were terminated and the company charged to court on matters bordering on impropriety and corruption. Reports said that Frabemar serially under-remitted the revenue accruable to those governments and massively bribed government officials.
In 2009, the DR Congo’s Office of Multimodal Freight Management signed a contract with Frabemar to represent it in various ports around the world by providing a record of all goods destined for the country with an electronic import information sheet. This, like the Nigerian version of the cargo tracking note, was to be done for a fee.
However, the proceeds from the arrangement never made it to the coffers of the Congolese government, according to reports. There are claims that all the money raised was diverted into the pockets of a few people including a former minister and honorary Frabemar chief executive.
Coordinated by the deputy prosecutor, Magistrate Francesco Pinto, the investigation revealed that Mr Bernardini and his son Massimo Bernardini had paid bribes to former Congolese, Nigerien and Beninese ministers and politicians. He was also said to have offered them large-displacement cars and other tips.
“These bribes were transferred from a current account opened in Liguria to Monte-Carlo, London and Mauritius,” one report said.
Italian newspaper Il Secolo XIX, also reported that the duo paid bribes in exchange for contracts to former ministers and politicians from Congo, Niger, and Benin. In leaked documents dated April 18, 2012, Frabemar’s four-year contract with DR Congo was declared terminated.
After being kicked out of DR Congo, Frabemar was later awarded a contract in Mali, which raised eyebrows. In Mali, stakeholders were quick to raise questions when the former Malian head of the Council of Chargers Ousmane Babalaye, signed a contract for the supply of Cargo Tracking Slips with Frabemar.
Local newspapers widely reported Frabemar’s fate in DR Congo, questioning why their government would want to deal with the company, especially as it concerns public funds. Eventually, the procurement process in which Mr Babalaye assented to the contract was eventually faulted.