After days of keeping mum and in an effort to cover-up the scam and absolve itself of any complicity, the Federal Government, through the Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, Sunday claimed that it only played the role of “facilitator of the resolution of a long standing dispute,” in the N155billion oil block scandal involving it, two multinational companies, and Malabu Oil, largely owned by former petroleum minister, Dan Etete.
The Federal Government’s response, which came through a press statement by Mr. Adoke, not only ignored several core issues raised in previous stories written by PREMIUM TIMES and other Nigerian publications, but further exposed the dubious roles played by the government in the transaction.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the Federal Government, Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited (Agip) and Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited (Shell) entered into a fraudulent secret deal in which the oil companies paid $1.1bn to the Federal Government, which was then transferred to Malabu.
The money was later funelled by Malabu into various accounts owned by “real and artificial persons” linked to high level Nigerian officials in what the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission described as “cloudy scene associated with fraudulent dealings.”
Fallacies in AGF’s response
Developing Indigenous Capability
In his statement (see below), Mr. Adoke stated that “in furtherance of the Indigenous Exploration Programme Policy introduced by the Federal Government in the early 1990s to encourage effective development of indigenous capability in the upstream sector of the oil industry, Malabu and other indigenous oil and gas companies were allocated oil blocks, which they were expected to develop in partnership with international oil companies as technical partners.”
As reported earlier and confirmed by Mr. Adoke, Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Limited (SNUD) became the technical partner of Malabu in 2001 prior to the reversal of the allocation to Malabu by the FG in July 2001. After various court filings in Nigeria and overseas, Mr. Adoke said the government intervened for an amicable settlement in 2011.
“To resolve all the contending claims in a satisfactory and holistic manner,” the AGF stated “due regard was given to … the underlying policy of encouraging the participation (of) indigenous oil and gas companies in the upstream sector of the oil industry.”
“How did Malabu ‘participate’ or guarantee ‘effective development of indigenous capability’ order than the fact that it, with the help of the FG, swindled Nigeria of at least a billion dollars by eventually passing the block to a foreign concern already entrenched in the nation’s oil and gas industry,” an oil industry source said. PREMIUM TIMES ongoing investigation clearly indicates how government violated the law and its own guideline to re-award the block to SHELL.
Mr. Adoke’s statement was silent on how Malabu’s money-making slush venture guarantee “effective development of indigenous capability in the upstream sector of the oil industry;” neither did it state how Shell and AGIPs purchase of OPL 245 guarantee same. Yet the license through the block was givien to Malabu forbided that the asset be sold to a foreign concern.
Whose idea was it that payment be made through the Nigerian government?
Although Mr. Adoke confirmed that Shell and Agip made payments into Nigerian government account, which were subsequently transferred to Mr. Etete, he declined to mention whose idea that arrangement was.
This newspaper had reported how, fearing that Mohammed Abacha (who is laying claim to a part of the block) might again raise objection and obstruct the deal, Ednan Agaev, an international consultant hired by Malabu suggested the role played by the Nigerian government to Mr. Etete, who in turn tabled the proposal before a government’s team of which Mr. Adoke was a part.
The arrangement, PREMIUM TIMES can confirm, was made to effectively scheme out Mr. Abacha, and create a slush fund for government officials.
The EFCC, in its report, confirmed Nigeria’s dubious acceptance of that role when it stated in its report that “by the end of March 2011, the FGN seemed to have acted with the suggestion.”
“Why would the FG accept to play such a role of helping to keep such dubious funds? Why didn’t it just ask Shell and AGIP to transfer the funds to Malabu directly,” another industry source said, adding, “Can Adoke state if the FG ever acted like that in the past?”
Either Shell or the FG lied
Mr. Adoke also stated that “in furtherance of the Resolution Agreement, SNUD and ENI agreed to pay Malabu through the Federal Government acting as an obligor, the sum of US$ 1,092,040,000 Billion.”
In other words, according to Mr. Adoke, Dutch Oil Company, Shell, was in full knowledge that the payment it was making would be passed to Malabu with the FG only acting as a conduit.
This clearly contradicts Shell’s claim that “Shell was not aware that that money was to be paid to Malabu,” and that “any payments relating to the issuance of the license were made only to the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
Tajudeen Adigun, the spokesman for Agip, also made a similar claim in response to a newspaper enquiry.
The hurried payment
The AGF was also not forthcoming on why the funds were hurriedly transfered into Malabu account a day before Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian finance minister was to assume duties.
Mr. Adoke, in his response, stated that the FG signed a “Resolution Agreement dated 29th April, 2011,” with Malabu on the transfer.
The Attorney General however wouldn’t say why the FG, which had waited for four months, hurriedly made the payment into the Malabu account on August 16, 2011, a day before Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala was to resume office.
A source at the finance ministry had told PREMIUM TIMES that the deal was hurriedly done because President Jonathan and those in the know feared the former World Bank MD would block the dubious transfer.
“The Minister (Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala) was not briefed about the deal. It was a hush-hush deal. That is why they had to do it 24 hours before she was to resume. Whoever was holding forth for her office should have told her of such payment,” our source said.
Keeping mum on Etete
In a manner sources described as “characteristic of Mr. Adoke and the Federal Goverment,” the AGF also kept mum about dealing with a man who was convicted for money laundering.
Dan Etete, the principal owner of Malabu, was convicted of money laundering in France in 2007. His conviction was further confirmed by a French appeal court in 2009. Mr. Adoke makes no mention of how the Nigerian FG willfully dealed with a convicted international criminal particularly as OPL 245 was mentioned repeatedly during Mr. Etete’s trial. Mr. Etete’s conviction came a year after Nigeria, under President Obasanjo, had an out of court settlement with him.
Perhaps sensing the criminality involved, late President Umaru Yar’Adua refused to have any dealings with Mr. Etete or any company linked to him.
Sensing that a favourably disposed President in Mr. Jonathan had assumed office, as admitted to by Mr. Adoke, Mr. Etete then approached the FG for settlement.
“In 2010, when this administration came to power, Malabu again, petitioned the Federal Government to implement the terms of the out-of-court settlement of 30th November 2006,” Mr. Adoke stated.
Who is Alhaji Aliyu and why were the huge transfers made to his companies’ accounts?
Perhaps the most outrageous of Mr. Adoke’s silence on important issues raised was his silence on the way Malabu transferred the funds paid to him into private accounts believed to be fronts for public officials including half of the total sum ($523mn) into the accounts of companies largely owned by Abubakar Aliyu, a man previously linked to the President and the AGF and whom anti-corruption sources described as “Mr. Corruption.”
Also playing smart, Mr. Adoke also did not comment on the interim report by the EFCC on its investigations into the scandal. Sources at the Presidency told PREMIUM TIMES that not only is the Presidency aware of the report, it is also, in conjunction with Mr. Adoke, frustrating further investigations.
“The investigation has suffered a setback since the presidency got wind of it. There is high-level complicity in the deal and there is therefore high-level cover up. The report is gathering dust on the president’s desk,” our source said.
Read full text of Mr. Adoke’s statement below
The attention of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation has been drawn to recent media reports containing allegations of round-tripping against the Federal Government as a result of the settlement agreement it brokered between Malabu Oil & Gas Limited (Malabu) and Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Limited (SNUD) over their long standing dispute over the ownership and right to operate Block 245.
2.?In view of the misrepresentations and obvious mischief in reporting the role of the Federal Government, its agencies and officials in the settlement of the dispute, it has become necessary to issue a comprehensive response to these allegations so as to set the records straight and properly explain the role played by the Federal Government, its agencies and officials in accordance with this administration’s commitment to transparency and accountability in governance.
3.?It will be recalled that in furtherance of the Indigenous Exploration Programme Policy introduced by the Federal Government in the early 1990s to encourage effective development of indigenous capability in the upstream sector of the oil industry, Malabu and other indigenous Oil and Gas companies were allocated Oil Blocks which they were expected to develop in partnership with international oil companies as Technical Partners.
4.?Malabu was allocated OPL 245 in April, 1998 and in accordance with the terms of the grant, it appointed SNUD as its Technical Partner. The two companies executed relevant Agreements including a Joint Operation Agreement in 2001. Records indicate that SNUD took 40% participating interests in the venture in a farm-in- agreement and also signed agreement with Malabu as its technical partner for the venture.
5.?Although, Malabu was issued a licence for Block 245 in April 2001, the same licence was subsequently revoked by the Federal Government on 2nd July, 2001. Exxon-Mobil and Shell were invited in April 2002 to bid for OPL 245 despite a subsisting contractual agreements between Malabu and SNUD with respect to OPL 245. Malabu was dissatisfied with the revocation and contended that the circumstances leading to the revocation of its licence on Block 245 was less than transparent and smacked of inducement and connivance from SNUD, its technical partner.
6.?Malabu also contended that the subsequent re-award of OPL 245 to SNUD by the Federal Government was done under questionable circumstances. It then petitioned the House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum to look into the matter. It is apposite to note that the House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum found no rational basis for the revocation and reprimanded Shell for its complicity. The Committee also directed the Federal Government to withdraw the re-award, it made to Shell and return OPL 245 to Malabu, the original allotee of the Block.
7.?Malabu also instituted Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/420/2003, before the Federal High Court (FHC), Abuja to enforce its claim to OPL 245. Although, the suit was struck out by the FHC, Malabu lodged Appeal No. CA/A/99M/2006 before the Court Appeal, Abuja, Division. During the pendency of the Appeal, an amicable settlement was entered into between Malabu and the Federal Government and in compliance with the Terms of Settlement executed by the Parties on the 30th of November 2006, OPL 245 was fully and completely restored to Malabu in consideration for its withdrawal of the Appeal.
8.?SNUD, apparently dissatisfied with the Terms of Settlement between the Federal Government and Malabu commenced arbitral proceedings against the decision of the Federal Government to restore/re-allocate OPL 245 to Malabu at the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington DC, and made representations to government on the impending arbitration. It also commenced a suit against the Government before the Federal High Court, Abuja.
9.?Although, several meetings were held between the Presidency, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, SNUD and Malabu, to resolve the dispute, no satisfactory outcome was achieved. Attempts were also made in 2007 to resolve the dispute by a Committee comprising the Honourable Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Minister of Energy, Group Managing Director, NNPC and DPR, the issues could not be amicably resolved before the administration of Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua GCFR came to power.
10.?It is also important to note that SNUD had entered into a Production Sharing Contract with the NNPC in 2004 upon which their claim to OPL 245 was anchored and had paid $1Million US Dollars out of the $210 Million US Dollars signature bonus to the Federal Government, and kept the balance of $209 Million US dollars in an Escrow Account with J.P. Morgan pending the resolution of the dispute between Malabu and the Federal Government.
11.? In 2010, when this administration came to power, Malabu again, petitioned the Federal Government to implement the terms of the out-of-court settlement of 30th November 2006 on the basis of which they had discontinued their Appeal. Government also took cognisance of the pending cases instituted by SNUD against Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and/or Malabu, including Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) arbitration No. ARB/ 07/18 pending at the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Arbitration) to enforce SNUD’s rights to exclusively operate Block 245 as Contractor on the basis of the 2003 PSC between NNPCand SNUD and the financial implications of defending these actions on the public purse and opted for amicable resolution of the dispute.
12.?To resolve all the contending claims in a satisfactory and holistic manner, due regard was given to the Terms of Settlement of 30th November 2006 which had been reduced to Orders of the Court, the underlying policy of encouraging the participation indigenous oil and gas companies in the upstream sector of the oil industry and the fact that Shell had substantially de-risked Block 245. To accomodate all these interests, a Resolution Agreement dated 29th April, 2011 between the Federal Government of Nigeria and Malabu Oil & Gas Limited was executed wherein the FGN agreed to resolve all the issues with Malabu in respect of Block 245 amicably and Malabu also agreed that in consideration of receiving compensation from the FGN it would settle and waive any and all claims to any interest in OPL 245.
13.?In furtherance of the Resolution Agreement, SNUD and ENI agreed to pay Malabu through the Federal Government acting as an obligor, the sum of US$ 1,092,040,000 Billion in full and final settlement of any and all claims, interests or rights relating to or in connection with Block 245 and Malabu agreed to settle and waive any and all claims, interests or rights relating to or in connection with Block 245 and also consented to the re-allocation of Block 245 to Nigerian Agip Exploration Limited (NAE) and Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited (SNEPCO).
14.?It is therefore quite evident from the foregoing that the role played by the Federal Government, its agencies and officials in relation to Block 245 was essentially that of facilitator of the resolution of a long standing dispute between Malabu and SNUD over the ownership and right to operate Block 245. At all times material to the resolution of the dispute, the Federal Government was not aware of any subsisting third party interest in Malabu’s claim to OPL 245 and neither did any person or company apply to be joined in the negotiations as an interested party.
15.?Government has overtime demonstrated its commitment to attract investment in the oil and gas sector of the economy and encourage genuine investors (local and foreign) by creating the enabling environment for their business to thrive. The resolution of the lingering dispute over Block 245 was in furtherance of that objective. Accordingly, the FGN, its agencies and officials should not be dragged into a purely commercial dispute between Malabu and its purported partners. It is also clear that the allegation of round-tripping levelled against the FGN is without basis and cannot be substantiated having regard the role it played as mere facilitator of an amicable settlement between two disputing parties over a long standing dispute with obvious economic implications for the country.
Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, CFR
Honourable Attorney General of the Federation
and Minister of Justice