By Camillus Eboh
ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's anti-corruption agency will charge 12 fuel traders on Wednesday over allegations they illegally collected a combined 11 billion naira ($68.46 million) in subsidy payments for fuel they never delivered, it said in a statement.
The 12 individuals from seven companies charged are all from low-level Nigerian firms, although the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said more than 100 other marketers were being investigated.
"The EFCC, has concluded arrangements to prosecute the first batch of suspects implicated in the oil subsidy fraud," an emailed statement from the government agency said.
"This investigation is massive and extensive and the Commission wishes to reassure Nigerians that every effort will be made to bring all those who defrauded the country in the guise of subsidy for imported fuel to book."
A parliamentary probe earlier this year uncovered $6.8 billion in subsidy fraud and accused high level politicians of being complicit in illegal fuel subsidy payments. Probes by the EFCC and another by a presidential committee have so far focused on oil firms rather than government officials.
The presidential committee said on Tuesday fuel traders collected $2.38 billion last year in fraudulent subsidy payments.
Several investigations into the import subsidy were launched after President Goodluck Jonathan attempted to remove the support on January 1, before partially reinstating it after more than a week of protests over increased motor fuel costs.
The subsidy is not only rife with corruption but is also a drain on Nigeria's finances and removing it could have saved Africa's second largest economy more than $6 billion, equivalent to 20 percent of the entire 2012 budget.
Nigeria may be saddled with debts to fuel importers, including the state-oil company, after it spent half the 888 billion naira 2012 subsidy budget on arrears for last year. Subsidy costs are set to significantly overshoot planned spending.
($1 = 160.6800 Nigerian naira)
(Writing by Joe Brock; editing by James Jukwey)