A recent media report highlighted how Nigeria has become a safe haven for the Sandesara brothers, who are branded as fugitives by India, according to an IANS report.
The selection of a firm owned by their family to drill wells for a major project in Nigeria is seen as another example of the brothers finding refuge in the country, shielding them from legal troubles back home.
As quoted by IANS, the Bloomberg report emphasizes that as Nigeria’s newly elected President Bola Tinubu sets ambitious targets for the country’s hydrocarbons sector, companies affiliated with the Sandesara brothers, namely Nitin and Chetan Sandesara, are poised to play a prominent role. This comes at a time when international oil giants like Shell and ExxonMobil are scaling back their operations in Nigeria.
The IANS report added that despite facing criminal accusations and being pursued by Indian authorities for alleged economic scams, the Sandesara brothers have managed to build the largest independent oil company in Nigeria, where they shifted their focus from India. The brothers have even applied for Nigerian citizenship, according to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
While the Sandesara brothers fight fraud charges and non-bailable warrants from India, their businesses in Nigeria continue to thrive. Their subsidiaries, Sterling Oil Exploration & Production Co. and Sterling Global Oil Resources Ltd., are responsible for pumping approximately 50,000 barrels of crude oil per day in the Niger Delta under contracts with the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. Another unit of their company aims to bring a third block into production, which will raise their total daily output to over 100,000 barrels.
In Nigeria, the Sandesara family is among the top exporters of oil and their companies’ tax contributions accounted for 2% of the Nigerian government’s revenue in 2019. Their success is partly attributed to an innovative export system that transports crude oil on barges to a floating storage vessel in the Atlantic Ocean, minimizing vulnerability to theft compared to traditional pipeline methods.
On the other hand, Indian authorities have accused the Sandesara brothers of fraudulent practices. According to the IANS report, the brothers, who transformed their family tea-trading business into a conglomerate spanning various industries, including oil and gas, healthcare, and construction, allegedly engaged in economic fraud, leaving them indebted to public lenders for over $1.71 billion.
Indian state-backed lenders, such as Bank of India, have obtained court judgments ordering Sandesara companies associated with Sterling Oil to repay defaulted loans, amounting to almost $60 million.