Ruling on two applications seeking the return of OPL 245 to two multinational oil companies, Shell and ENI, has again been adjourned, following a fresh application on the matter.
The oil firms, through their Nigerian subsidiaries, had challenged the propriety of the Nigerian government withdrawing the oil block from them, pending the determination of a criminal matter.
The order of forfeiture was sought by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which said it was investigating the corruption surrounding the block. The temporary order was granted by the court.
OPL245 is considered one of Nigeria’s richest oil blocks and estimated to contain over 9 billion barrels of crude.
Apart from Shell and ENI, who want the block back, Malabu, the firm to which the block was originally assigned by the Nigerian government in 1998 under controversial circumstances, also sought to retake possession of the block.
The ruling had been slated for Monday but was postponed due to an application by Malabu.
The counsel representing Malabu, Abdullahi Haruna, had on February 27 informed the court about an application for his client to be joined in the suit. But his application could not be heard on that day, because the court was yet to officially receive the application at the time.
At the opening of session on Monday, Mr. Haruna brought the attention of the court to the matter again adding that the parties to the case were not opposing his application.
The counsel representing Shell and ENI, however, opposed the application, stressing that it was just intended to delay the proceedings of the court.
ENI’s lawyer, Babatunde Fagbohunlu, vehemently opposed the application, describing it as one capable of attracting a petition before the Nigerian Bar Association for disciplinary action against the applicant.
The counsel to the EFCC, Johnson Ojogbane, however said his client did not oppose the application.
After hearing argument from counsel, the presiding judge, John Tsoho, adjourned the matter, till March 17 for ruling on the application made by Malabu.
THE $1.1 BILLION 2011 DEAL
After several political and judicial intrigues that ensured OPL 245 changed hands several times between Malabu, Shell, and the Nigerian government, Goodluck Jonathan emerged Nigeria’s president in 2010. On the prompting of his attorney general, Mohammed Adoke, one of Mr. Jonathan’s first directive upon assuming office was that the oil block be given to Malabu.
Persons close to Mr. Jonathan told PREMIUM TIMES the former president took the decision because of his closeness to Dan Etete who had helped him during his tenure as petroleum minister and because of the perception among persons from the oil producing Niger Delta that OPL 245 was one of the few oil blocks awarded to someone from the region.
By 2010, Mr. Etete had schemed out other owners of Malabu including by fraudulently altering Corporate Affairs Corporation, CAC, documents, investigations revealed.
The CAC recently said its official in charge of the Malabu documents was “brutally murdered”.
Despite Mr. Jonathan’s directive that Malabu be given OPL 245, the company really did not exist and had no staff or technical competence to manage the block. Based on advice from desperate businessmen including an Israeli, Ednan Agaev, Mr. Etete decided to cash in on the block. Through various middlemen, the former minister approached oil giants, Shell and ENI, to buy the block. Knowing Mr. Etete’s history including the fact that he had been convicted in France for money laundering, the oil firms would not do a direct deal.
For the transaction to continue, a legally recognised mediator would have to be found.
That mediator turned out to be the Nigerian government, represented by Mr. Adoke.
The agreements that were sealed led to Shell and ENI paying the $1.1 billion into a Nigerian government account in JP Morgan Chase in London. The money was to then be transferred to Malabu accounts controlled by Mr. Etete.
Although Shell and ENI have repeatedly claimed they did not know the money was going to end up with Mr. Etete, investigations in Nigeria and Italy as well as leaked documents revealed that claim to be false. Mr. Adoke himself would later admit that he, on behalf of the federal government, only acted as a mediator for two willing parties – Malabu and the oil majors.
Mr. Adoke was, however, aware of the various fraudulent manipulations of Malabu by Mr. Etete when he authorised the transaction, multiple sources have told PREMIUM TIMES.
THE TRANSFERS TO FRAUDULENT FIRMS
To ensure no one stopped the shady transfer of the $1.1 billion to Mr. Etete, the money had to be quickly transferred. More so, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was set to assume office as Nigeria’s Finance Minister and the officials involved were not sure she would play ball.
On August 16, 2011, a day before Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala was to assume office, Mr. Adoke and the then Minister of State for Finance, Yerima Ngama, authorised the transfer of the money to Malabu accounts in Nigeria controlled by Mr. Adoke.
However, all the $1.1 billion could not be transferred. Emeka Obi, a man who claimed he helped broker the deal between Malabu and the oil majors filed a suit in the UK, that ensured $215 million was frozen of the money. The remaining $801 million was subsequently transferred to Mr. Etete: $400 million was transferred to a Bank PHB account while $401 million was transferred to a First Bank account.
Immediately Mr. Etete received the money, curious transfers began. PREMIUM TIMES investigations, now confirmed by the EFCC, reveal that shady companies linked to Aliyu Abubakar received about $479 million dollars from Mr. Etete. Our investigations later showed that most of the companies were non-existent and used fake addresses in their registration documents.
The companies – Rocky Top Resource Ltd, Imperial Union Ltd, Novel Properties & Dev. Co. Ltd, A-Group Construction Ltd, and Megatech Engineering Ltd – were all charged in the suit filed by the EFCC.
While Mr. Etete later admitted that only $250 million of the money paid into his account was his, Mr. Aliyu is believed to have acted as a front for officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration including Mr. Adoke.
It is based on its investigations of the corruption surrounding the transfer of the block that the EFCC asked the court that it be temporarily forfeited to the Nigerian government. The request, granted by the court, is what Shell and Eni, and now Malabu, are contesting.