Other pundits repeatedly claimed the company was deeply implicated by the Jefferson probe because a former director who became a government informant was taped by the FBI as she met with Jefferson on behalf of another company.
The probe cost investors tens of millions of dollars in share price declines, but the Justice Dept. was long unwilling to say it had no evidence to proceed. Indeed, the charges crippled the company's stock price growth at the most critical time in its existence, just after it was awarded potentially lucrative concessions in several blocks of the Nigeria-San Tome & Principe Joint Development Zone (JDZ) and was searching for partners to help develop the concessions.
It is believed by many that major oil companies, including ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco, who had competing bids and claims in the Gulf Of Guinea, used their considerable influence with the Bush Administration to get ERHC indicted on charges that were apparently groundless.
Even as the documents were returned, however, an admittedly broke and inebriated former technical director for ERHC Energy told ERHC On The Move that company CEO Peter Ntephe bribed Godsonic, a Nigerian company with strong political connections, with a payment of $245,000 that was purportedly intended to coerce Godsonic to sign a document it was already required to sign, with the implication that the payment went to Nigerian officials. The payment, reported in company SEC filings, excited considerable controversy on investor boards at the time.
Ledbetter also charged that his lawyer was bought off by the company with a $50,000 payment that he said was made by a Nigerian company a month after he gave up his lawsuit. He said the unnamed company had opened for one day to make the payment and closed the next day. He said ERHC spent $1.5 million on four attorneys who fought the Ledbetter lawsuit.
He also said the company's exploration of five wells in Block 4 had failed to produce evdence of oil and gas in commercial quantities. The company announced the end of drilling last week. It is pursuing other opportunities in the Nigerian energy business, it said in an earlier statement.
Ledbetter says he is living in his car and close to committing suicide. "My date of death may be today or tomorrow," he responded when asked during an early-morning telephone call for his date of birth to verify his identity. Calls to Houston police and a national suicide hotline failed to locate Ledbetter.
The FBI probe may not have taken the Godsonic payment into consideration, given its apparent occurrence long after the May 2006 seizure of the company's documents.
Here is the company's press release:
Federal Investigators Return Documents of ERHC Energy Inc.
HOUSTON, January 12, 2010 – ERHC Energy Inc. (OTCBB:ERHE), a publicly traded American company with oil and gas assets in the highly prospective Gulf of Guinea off the coast of West Africa, today announced the return of all the documents taken by federal investigators from its corporate headquarters in May 2006. A total of 106 boxes containing original archival records from the Company’s inception until 2006 have been returned.
“This is a positive start to a new year in which the Company will be targeting several benchmarks in its strategies toward corporate growth and the enhancement of shareholder value,” said Peter Ntephe, chief operating officer with ERHC.