The Story of Saipem: A Company’s Penchant For Mismanagement, Inefficiency and Gross Fraud

At Saipem, business has little to do with ideas, values, philosophy and corporate social responsibility. In the cutthroat sanctums of the oil and gas sector’s turnkey contractor, business has more to do with maneuvers, intrigues, plots, betrayals, a great deal of calculation, no little cynicism, and every kind of con game. Hence Saipems’s astounding capacity for fraud in any form of major business transaction.

Like the proverbial crook, variously inured in the devises and means of corporate scams, the name, Saipem – a major player in the Nigerian oil and gas sector – is now synonymous with tax evasion, criminal discrimination and galling corporate fraud. Led by Mr. Verginie, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company, the expatriate turned key contractor in the Nigerian oil and gas sector, reaps immense profits from doing business in the country by perpetuating a business culture that is in contradiction of Nigeria’s employment and labour laws.

The Saipem business model professes good corporate citizenship but is fundamentally a fraud.
Investigations revealed that Saipem’s business model is basically rigged and operationalized with no regard for the local legal requirements, corporate guidelines and ethical procedures which it so vocally espouses in all its areas of operation. Findings revealed a pattern of illegalities which has been effectively deployed as a model across all Saipem areas of operation and accounts for significant successes which Saipem records.

Saipem’s Nigerian misadventure
Saipem’s Nigerian operations sheds light on the parasitical nature of the company through its flagrant disregard of local legislation and ethical practices. The company commenced operations in Nigeria with its drilling arm in the 1970s. At the period, Saipem conducted drilling operations primarily from its offshore offices with no real presence in Nigeria. However, in 1989, the company established its presence in Nigeria by the incorporation of Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited. Saipem thereafter established a base in Port Harcout in 1998. Prior to this, all jobs executed by Saipem were done from its offices in Italy and France.

At its entry phase into the country, Saipem sought a breakthrough into the Nigerian oil and gas industry. It was not until the development of a relationship with its local partner in a span of 10 years, from 2002 to 2013, that Saipem was able to win projects worth EUR 12.1 billion. At this time, it was expected that Saipem would capitalize on its experience in Nigeria in the past 40 years and build on the competencies while giving back to the country that has contributed to 24 per cent of the Saipem Group annual turnover.

Doctored accounts, falsified reports and cutthroat business philosophy
Interestingly, however, the Nigerian subsidiary frequently projects itself as a “a loss making company” for the same period as clearly shown in its audited financial statements filed in the Nigerian CAC as against indicated profits in their related companies for the same projects.

The model Saipem adopted was a short sighted approach of leaving the Nigerian arm underdeveloped in terms of substance such as local equity (Saipem Nigeria remains 98% foreign owned), human capacity or equipment capability. Saipem resorted to stop gap arrangements to kill the competition while continuing to execute the profitable scopes of its contracts through its affiliate Companies and in partnership with other foreign contractors.

Saipem’s wanton tax evasion
The massive tax evasion by Saipem has been achieved through an elaborate and fraudulent Transfer Pricing Scheme (TPS), where the chunk of contract value without commensurate and necessary work scope was allocated to their subsidiary companies- SAIPEM SA in France, SAIPEM PORTUGAL COMERCIO MARITIMO in Madeira( tax incentive scheme given ) and SAIPEM INTERNATIONAL BV, in The Netherlands where (both countries have a double taxation treaty) . This is evidenced in all the company’s bids and subsequently awarded contracts to these three companies in the oil & gas industry.

Saipem perfected the evasion of taxes by putting in place financial schemes to impoverish Nigerian State exchequers and take the chunk of contract value to their subsidiary companies; the company went to the extent of bifurcating the value in a single contract for projects to be executed and delivered in the country and put more than 60 per cent of the value outside Nigeria thus obtaining the benefit of double taxation treaty agreements between countries. The worrisome question on the lips of several stakeholders in the oil and gas sector is: “How are these contracts awarded directly to Saipem affiliates that are not registered in Nigeria?”

Racist, inequitable recruitment culture
In over 40 years of its operations in Nigeria, Saipem has yet to produce a Nigerian Project Director or Project Manager. There is a cap on the growth of Nigerian human resources within the company even as foreign staff from the ages of 19 upwards are sent to Nigeria to manage positions. It is instructive to note that many of the company’s so-called expatriate staff are unqualified for the positions they brought in to occupy, customarily, they are trained by more competent and experienced Nigerian staff working with the company before they are deemed fit to assume duty.

Saipem has developed an expertise in quota trafficking and, at any point in time has over 500 expatriate on its payroll in positions ranging from management to intermediate and blue collar positions. With no actual training or succession plan in place, some of these positions have been held by the company’s expatriates for over 15 years.

Besides the lack of merit of its recruitment style, the company perpetrates a very gruesome and dehumanising social and workplace culture. For instance, its Nigerian senior staff, irrespective of department and position, are restricted from eating in the management canteen as it is reserved solely for the expatriate staff.

The company’s expatriate personnel have taken full advantage of the corrupt practices instituted by Saipem and work in line with instructions from the company’s management to diminish the growth opportunities for local companies with draconian policies, delayed payments and frequent contract breaches which leads to a high cancellation of its subcontracts to locals. This serves to the advantage of the company’s preferred foreign contractors who are the ultimate beneficiaries of this scheme. As a result of its deliberate disregard for the locals, the Nigerian Content Board (NCB) sanctioned Saipem in 2013, banning the company from bidding for jobs in the oil and gas sector.

While Saipem’s indictments on corruption in its activities and corrupt practices in furtherance of its business interests remains a valid cause for concern, the company has persistently refused to develop and operationalize an anti-corruption framework within its system and re-orientate its staff about the need to adopt and evolve lawful and acceptable business practices.

A global shame
The same model is consistently repeated in other Saipem entities across the globe; for isntance, Saipem has been the subject of several corruption scandals in United States of America, Italy, Nigeria and Algeria where prosecution has been instituted and judgment executed against it. The company has maintained this sleazy model in Canada and failed to the extent that its major clients are in the process of cancelling existing contracts with it. The financial schemes of Saipem as practiced in Nigeria was also replicated in middle eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq, where the local joint venture partners quickly realized their folly and have sought legal reprieve, albeit successfully, from the severed the relationships.



Source: The Capital

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