In a recent study done by Chatham House, a world-leading source of independent analysis based out of London, it was found that large amounts of Nigerian crude oil was being stolen. The research discovered that at least 100,000 barrels of oil per day, or around 5% of total output, were stolen in the first quarter of 2013. The extensive network of exported stolen oil includes thieves, financial centers, commodities traders, politicians, and international trade.

Nigeria is Africa’s second largest economy and produces about 2.53 million barrels per day, most of which is moved through pipelines in the Niger Delta. Thieves tap these pipelines which are owned by large oil companies such as Chevron, Total, Agip, and in particular Shell. Not only are thieves hurting these large global oil companies, they are hurting Nigeria’s economy by limiting the amount of oil exports. Although a lot of these thieves’ operate on a small scale, there are clues that there is a large-scale network of facilitators, operators, transporters, and buyers and sellers.

There often a blurred line between crude oil that is stolen and illegal, and which oil is legal. This creates opportunities for oil thieves to export the oil and profit on an international level through oil trade. In the study done by Chatham House, it was found that the countries with the most imported stolen oil from Nigeria include the United States, several West African countries, Brazil, China, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Balkans. The thieves are able to import the oil through the roles of commodity traders that work in the industry.

The network of thieves that steal oil on a large-scale uses foreign banks and money centers to store their stolen earnings. The money is deposited by using bulk cash smuggling, delayed deposits, shell companies, and bribing officials. One way the report suggested to stop the illegal trade of oil is to follow the money trail. The research recommended finding thieves large capital expenses on ships, the use of bulk cash to smuggle concealed oil, and speaking with Nigerian banks.

The network of crude oil theft that is occurring in Nigeria is not only affecting the countries economy, but also hurting world trade. The daily theft of crude oil out of Nigeria is a global problem because it includes international trade, foreign banks, and global companies. It is a sensitive subject for many foreign governments because it is difficult to know who to engage. Could the problem be stopped by confronting the Nigerian government, the thieves, or the traders and exporters? For more information on Nigeria’s economy, visit the globalEDGE economy page.

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