Italian Court Exposes Inside Details of US$1.3bn Malabu Scandal

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Former joint-head of the International Corruption Unit at United Kingdom based National crime Agency, Jonathan Benton, has alleged that former president Goodluck Jonathan and his Attorney General, Mohammed Adoke were not interested in investigating the allegations of corruption in the sale OPL 245, a prolific oil field containing an estimated nine billion barrels of crude oil reserves.

OPL 245, also known as the Malabu oil field was sold to Netherlands based Shell and Italian based Eni for US$1.3 billion, but only US$200 million of the money was transferred to federation accounts while balance of US$1.1 billion went to Malabu’s oil’s owner Dan Etete.

The allegation is that most of the money that went to Etete was eventually passed on as bribes to top Nigerian government officials, most of whom, including Jonathan have insisted they did no wrong. But Italian authorities disagree and have filed a case in Italy against Shell and Eni for facilitating bribe to Nigerian officials.

At the Milan Palace of Justice in Italy, three senior Judges on Wednesday listened to testimony from Jonathan Benton, former joint-head of the UK’s International Corruption Unit who gave detailed account of how former president Jonathan, former head of Economic and Financial crimes commission Ibrahim Lamorde, Former Attorney General Mohammed Adoke and Umar Bature a former House of representative member acted as lead actors in various stages of the much controversial OPL 245.

Jonathan Benton recounted to the court how an incident occurred in 2012 when Jeffrey Tesler, a Briton Who had previously been successfully prosecuted by the United States Department of Justice in 2011, walked into a north London police station with a suitcase containing £378,000 wrapped in bundles which prompted an undercover operation.
Jonathan Benton told the court how a covert operation at the Cavendish Hotel in London where a man who acted as a courier was arrested handing over a bag with £70,000 in cash to another man.

Benton describes how the courier had collected cash from two western union money changers in London, when the police later served orders requiring western union to show details of the transaction, there was no trace of where this money had come from, which was very unusual.

According to Barnaby Pace, anti-corruption campaigner at Global Witness, Benton described the recipient of the bag of cash as Umar Bature, a former House of representative member representing Sokoto state. He tried to use diplomatic protection when he was arrested, and had $50,000 cash in his room. The police eventually pursued civil forfeiture of the money.

Jonathan Benton further explained how then head of the EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde told him that the investigation into OPL 245 would not be sanctioned from above, implying that his boss, the then Attorney General Mohammed Adoke under Jonathan Administration, would not allow the case to proceed.
Benton said he turned down a meeting in London with Adoke when Lamorde informed him that Adoke will like to meet him.

It was a very strange request as the Attorney General meets ministers or senior law officers, not ordinary police officers looking at corruption. He declined to meet Adoke in London.

But Benton said months later, he was forced to see Adoke in Nigeria without first being told he was coming to see him. Benton said Adoke told him the OPL 245 deal was settled and Nigeria was not going to open an investigation into the case as the decision was above him, implying that he did not have the authorisation of former President Jonathan to order an investigation into the matter.

Benton was asked about the investigation into former Nigerian oil minister Diezani Alison Madueke. He said that the investigation which began secretly at Scotland Yard and has since expanded
“it is a huge investigation” he said without explaining further.

Last month a court in Italy sentenced two middle aged men Nigeria’s Emeka Obi and Italian’s Gianluca Di Nardowere to four years in imprisonment for helping to arrange a payment between the multinational oil companies Shell, ENI and the Nigerian government.

The raging scandal over the OPL 245 oil block began in 2011 when Jonathan administration approved the purchase by Shell and Agip-Eni from Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd., a suspected briefcase firm with ties to Dan Etete, a convicted criminal who was Nigeria’s petroleum minister from 1995 to 1998.

The Jonathan administration officials who participated in the negotiation preceding the controversial sale of the massive oil block included Adoke, Attorney-General at the time; and Alison-Madueke, who was petroleum minister.

Jonathan himself was named by investigators as being involved in the alleged fraud, but the former president strongly denies the charges.

In the first hearing of the case on September 26, the court heard about how the $1.1bn paid for OPL 245 went through London, failed an attempted transfer to a Swiss Bank, before it was filtered through Nigerian banks and companies back into and out of Europe.

The next hearing of the case has been fixed for October 10, during which the FBI is expected to present its own evidence into the scandal which is now being investigated globally. Investigations are currently going on in the case in the US, UK, Switzerland, Nigeria and Italy with detectives carrying out surprise raids, wiretaps and money tracing. The outcome of the case is expected to have a significant impact on how oil companies interact with the Nigerian government going forward. (BUSINESSDAY)

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