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Nigerian Government Accuses Contractors of Embezzlement - 2004-07-08

Nigeria's government says it will sue more than 130 contractors, including a special advisor to President Olusegun Obasanjo, for embezzling millions of dollars in state funds.

A presidential committee has been investigating contracts in which companies collected advance payment from the government for projects that were never carried out, or only half completed.

A special advisor to President Obasanjo, Rochas Okorocha, and more than 130 others will stand trial at a special civil court.

The contracts date back to 1976, and continued to 1999 when military rule ended in Nigeria.

The minister of works, Alhaji Sale Shehu, says the government is acting in the public interest.

"We have to start from somewhere,? Mr. Shehu said. ?I think it is better late than never. It is now that the government is more focused. The government has sworn to protect the interests of the people, to serve the people. Therefore, some people have collected money long ago, unfortunately, they did not perform. They have not done anything, and it is the duty of the government to retrieve the money back."

More than half of the contracts are from the ministry of works, and others are from the ministries of education, defense and science and technology.

Minister Shehu says a special court will be set up to try the cases. He says the court is expected to act quickly.

"Most of them are construction companies, and especially those related to the Ministry of Works, they are all construction companies,? he said. ?Already, we have the failed contractors, we know the amount they have taken and run away with. So, the only thing is to prosecute them."

He says the government hopes to recover millions of dollars from the defendants and invest the money in Nigeria's infrastructure.