Nigeria: Heineken involved in corruption case

Heineken is currently shuttered by a corruption case of its Nigerian unit which was already revealed in 2017 but seemed to be concealed by the Dutch brewer in a costly settlement.

On Tuesday, Nigerian online newspaper Premium Times published an article titled “How Nigerian Breweries protected its Dutch CEO suspected of corruption.” The newspaper cited the two journalists Olivier van Beemen and Femke van Zeijl, who picked up the already buried story and won for the revelation in April 2019 the audience award of De Tegel, the most prestigious award for journalism in the Netherlands.

In a detailed description it was pictured how Nico Vervelde, at that time Managing Director and CEO of Nigerian Breweries, Heineken’s local unit in Nigeria, and his wife Clémentine Vervelde were involved in a corruption case in the years 2013 until 2017. After a USD 2 million settlement was agreed the manager resigned in May 2017 and was transferred to become Heineken’s managing director Asia Pacific, a post he holds until today.

The story starts in 2013, when Nico Vervelde and his wife Clémentine met the oil trader Amadu Sule at a jet-set party in Lagos. According to the report, Sule was offered an oil supply contract for Heineken’s breweries by Clémentine Vervelde in exchange for a “consultancy fee” for her. After a first payment of USD 200,000 in cash he became supplier of Heineken. Later he executed payments up to a total of USD 878,000 before realizing that the brewery was swapping his company for another where Vervelde had been on the board since December 2016.

After the federal police started an investigation in this case, Nigerian Breweries and Mr Sule agreed to a settlement in which the oil trader was paid more than two million dollars. Soon later, Vervelde resigned and was transferred to a new job in Asia.

As it looks, this could make the case not only a problem of Vervelde and his wife but also a case of Heineken. And even more. There are some signs which also point in the direction of Jean-François van Boxmeer, the CEO of Heineken.

“Several sources who know the Vervelde couple confirm that they have had close ties with the chairman of Heineken’s Executive Board for well over twenty years and consequently enjoy some form of ‘protection’,” the newspaper reports.

According to Premium Times, “Heineken admits that CEO Jean-François van Boxmeer and Nico Vervelde have known each other for a long time, but claims that does not give Mr Vervelde any privileges.” The company did “not deny the settlement took place, nor that there was widespread corruption taking place within its Nigerian subsidiary.” It has “conducted several internal investigations, ordered both by the mother company and NB, after the complaint on corruption from Mr Sule” but “the results were no cause for disciplinary actions against Nico Vervelde.”

After Premium Times issued the report on Tuesday, Heineken reacted in a disclosure notice signed by Sade Morgan, the Corporate Affairs Director at Heineken that was sent to the Nigerian Stock Exchange on Wednesday. The company claims that it does not tolerate bribery or corruption at any level of the organization.

“If an allegation emerges, a thorough investigation is carried out to establish the facts and, if necessary disciplinary action is taken – regardless of the role or position,” the disclosure states. “Both the Board of Nigerian Breweries and Heineken conducted an internal and external audit and investigation,” the statement goes on without citing any results of this investigation.

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