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Nigerian leader orders audit of missing billions

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered a forensic audit by international firms into some $20 billion allegedly missing from petroleum sales, following weeks of public outrage and demands by a Senate committee and the finance minister.

Jonathan’s announcement came buried in a statement attacking ousted Central Bank Gov. Lamido Sanusi, insisting that his suspension last month was unrelated to his whistle-blowing about what it calls ‘‘the phantom missing funds.’’

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In a statement dated Wednesday, Jonathan also denied Sanusi’s charges that the money has been diverted to fund campaigning for February 2015 elections where the governing People’s Democratic Party will face its biggest challenge since taking power in 1994 elections that ended decades of military dictatorship.

Sanusi said the money came from sales made between January 2012 and July 2013 by the state-owned Nigeria National Petroleum Corp. that was not remitted to the treasury. It is unclear whether the money, at a rate of more than $1 billion a month, is still being diverted.

Sanusi’s ouster has shaken foreign investors and caused the biggest slump in the naira currency since a depreciation five years ago.

The presidential statement denies Sanusi’s latest charges that the government is trying to bury the mystery of the missing petrodollars.

‘‘In keeping with its avowed commitment to full transparency, openness and accountability in governmental affairs, the Federal Government has authorized the engagement of reputable international firms for the recommended forensic audit’’ of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. accounts, it says.

When he was re-elected in 2011, Jonathan promised to fight corruption that keeps an elite fabulously wealthy while the majority of Africa’s most populous nation of some 170 million people struggle to survive on less than $1 a day, according to U.N. statistics.

But now Jonathan’s administration is seen as shielding the corrupt, most infamously by the pardon issued by the president last year of the ex-governor from his home state of Bayelsa, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, because he was ‘‘remorseful’’ after being convicted of money-laundering. Alamieyeseigha’s properties and funds in the United States and Britain were seized as proceeds of corruption in recent years, and he had jumped bail from Britain in 2005.

Previous investigations of billions in missing public funds have ended without resolution, with no one held to account and no money recovered.

No one has been prosecuted for a fuel subsidy scam uncovered in 2012, in which some $17 billion was paid to companies for fuel that never was delivered.

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