Lawyers for the wife of a former ambassador at the centre of an African bribery caper say they plan to launch "a vigorous defence" against a Canadian action that could force her to give up her shares in Griffiths Energy International Inc.
The forfeiture case is further fallout from Griffiths Energy's guilty plea to corruption charges, and a resulting $10.35-million fine, this year.
According to court documents, the Calgary-based company paid $2-million (U.S.) in cash to Nouracham Niam, the wife of Chad's former ambassador to Canada and the U.S., after it secured lucrative rights to exploit a handful of oil and gas concessions in the Central African country. Griffiths Energy also sold Ms. Niam founders' shares, now worth millions on the grey market, for a fraction of a penny each in 2009.
Last month Ms. Niam, through her Calgary lawyers, was served a forfeiture notice for her founders' shares, under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. As part of the efforts to recoup the funds, Ms. Niam's shares have been seized by the RCMP.
"To this stage, there hasn't really been a light shone on what actually has occurred in this matter," Ms. Niam's lawyer Christine Silverberg said in an interview Friday. "Ms. Niam's issues are serious issues. They are issues that we intend to fully explore, and we are going to, as I said, provide a vigorous defence."
Ms Niam's other lawyer, John James, noted that only Griffiths Energy's version of events has been told so far.
According to legal filings, the $2-million payment to Ms. Niam's company and the lucrative stock transfers were uncovered in late 2011 during an internal investigation by a new slate of Griffiths Energy executives. The company alerted police.
According to the forfeiture document, Ms. Niam purchased 1.6 million shares of Griffiths Energy. Ikram Saleh – the wife of another high-ranking Chad diplomat in Washington – purchased 800,000 shares. An additional 1.6 million shares were purchased in the name of Adoum Hassan, an acquaintance of the diplomats. According to an agreed statement of facts in the Griffiths Energy criminal case, the stock was sold at less than a penny a share.
Ms. Saleh is also named in the forfeiture application. However, the notice states Mr. Hassan is a "nominee" for Ms. Niam, who is "the owner of these shares in law and in fact," and he is not named in the application.
Griffiths Energy issued the disputed stock beginning in September 2009, shortly after the company had been founded by Brad Griffiths, the Bay Street investment banker who drowned after falling from a boat in 2011. The company's co-founders were brothers Naeem Tyab and Parvez Tyab.
The court case resumes April 26.