April 26, 2018 / 2:19 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-Nigeria's state oil firm illegally paid $707 mln in fuel subsidies in 2017, Senate probe finds

(Adds details, context)

By Camillus Eboh

ABUJA, April 26 (Reuters) - Nigeria’s state oil company illegally paid 216 billion naira ($707.4 million) in fuel subsidies in 2017, which should be reimbursed to the government, according to the findings of a Senate probe released on Thursday.

The investigation by the upper legislative house said that parliament had not approved those payments by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) last year, and any further spending on subsidies should be halted with immediate effect.

“The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) should stop the illegal payments,” the report said.

An NNPC spokesman told Reuters: “We have neither seen nor received the report. It is when we see it and analyse it that we will officially respond.”

Fuel subsidies are a contentious issue in Nigeria, where prices are kept artificially low at 145 naira ($0.48) per litre, often as a populist tool.

That has meant that as fuel prices increase globally, it has become unprofitable for private petrol marketers to import, forcing NNPC to step in to prevent major shortages.

However, state oil firm money spent on subsidies is meant to be included in Nigeria’s national budget, subject to approval by the national assembly.

In December and January, a run on petrol amid rumours of a price increase created queues lasting hours at filling stations around the country. ($1 = 305.2000 naira) (Reporting by Camillus Eboh Writing by Paul Carsten Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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