Friday, August 11, 2006

Sao Tome President Dumps Atty. Gen. Who Probed ERHC

Sao Tome's newly-reelected President Ferdinand de Menezes has unceremoniously fired the country's Attorney General Adelino Pereira, whose rogue two-month investigation of ERHC Energy concluded its 74-page report with a plea to the U.S. Dept. of Justice and America's Securities Exchange Commission to investigate the company's political contributions to De Menezes and possible gifts and business relationships with other island officials.

The firing may have been a fatal blow to the U.S. investigation led by Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Atty. Mary Ann Dimke, who traveled to Houston for the service of an FBI search warrant and questioned the company's then-CEO Walter Brandhuber, who left the company late last month.

For most ERHC investors, as Cleopatra says in the tragedy of Antony & Cleopatra, "Tis a consumnation devoutly to be wished."
The news came in this brief report from Portugal's RCN radio service:

Just re-elected, President Menezes sacks oil-probing Attorney-General

Sao Tome, Aug. 11 (Lusa) - President Fradique de Menezes, in his first action since formal confirmation of winning a landslide re- election, Friday sacked Attorney-General Adelino Pereira, who had led an officially discredited corruption probe into the recent awarding of offshore oil exploration blocks shared with Nigeria.

A presidential aide announced that Pereira, once considered close to de Menezes, had been replaced at his own request for "personal reasons".

Pereira, whose US-backed probe last year was boycotted by Nigerian officials and disavowed last March by the STP president and government, had been replaced as attorney-general by Magistrate Roberto Raposo, according to a presidential decree.

Pereira, the presidential aide, said had expressed his "desire to continue his studies abroad".

Made public in December, the corruption probe, incomplete due to Abuja's refusal to cooperate, did not establish any wrongdoing in the awarding of five Joint Development (JDZ) blocks in May 2005 but said the process was marred by "irregularities" and fell short of international standards.

Several mid-tier US companies were sidelined in the JDZ bidding process that saw China's Sinopec and Nigeria-based Addax of Switzerland gain highly prospective properties in tandem with US- headquartered, but Nigerian controlled, start-up ERHC Energy.

Last May, both the FBI and the Security and Exchange Commission, acting on sealed search warrants, carted away documentation from ERHC's Houston office.

No charges have been brought against the company, which gained hefty rights in the JDZ in the mid-1990s in exchange for helping Sao Tome set up its first oil-related institutions and carrying out seismic studies.

US major Chevron, which won JDZ Block 1 in an earlier auction, recently announced it had struck oil and natural, in still undetermined quantities, in the first JDZ exploratory well.

De Menezes' sacking of Pereira came less than 24 hours after the STP Supreme Court of Justice formally proclaimed him the victor in the islands' July 30 presidential poll.

The high court Thursday validated official final results of the election, in which more than 35% of the 91,000-strong electorate abstained, showing the incumbent took nearly 61% of ballots for a better than 20-point lead over his closest rival.

Former Foreign Minister Patrice Trovoada, the son of a former president who was backed by most of the islands' opposition parties, placed second in a field of three candidates with almost 39%.

De Menezes is expected to take office for a second five-year mandate on Sept. 3 under a revised constitution that limits presidential powers.

He has promised close collaboration with the government of Prime Minister Tomé Vera Cruz, who formed his cabinet after pro-Menezes parties won legislative elections last March.

The islanders are to return to the polls Aug. 27 for municipal and Principe regional votes that have been successively delayed for more than a decade.


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