By Idris Akinbajo
Four years after he was convicted of money laundering in France, Dan Etete, a former Petroleum Minister, through his company Malabu Oil, has become a billion dollars richer, courtesy of the Nigerian Government and Shell.
According to documents (filed March 22, 2012) before the Supreme Court of the State of New York in the US, President Goodluck Jonathan discreetly approved the transfer of the sum of $1.1bn to Mr. Etete on April 29, 2011, two weeks after he was re-elected.
The money was first paid to the Federal Government by two multinational oil companies: Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited (Agip) and Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited (Shell) in respect of oil block OPL 245.
But shortly after the funds were credited to the Federal Government’s account, Mr. Jonathan ordered that it should be secretly transferred to a London account of Mr. Etete’s company, Malabu Oil.
It is not clear what deal Mr. Jonathan struck with Malabu, and on what basis the payment was made. President Jonathan’s spokesperson, Reuben Abati did not answer or return calls seeking his comment for this story. He also did not respond to a text message sent to him for the same purpose.
The government made the payment to Mr. Etete’s company even when it had repeatedly insisted that the award of the oil block to Malabu was done in violation of laid down procedures.
Shell insisted it had no knowledge that the government passed the funds to Mr. Etete’s company.
OPL 245: History
While serving as Petroleum Minister under late Head of State, Sani Abacha, Mr. Etete awarded his own company, Malabu, an oil block, OPL 245 in 1998.
The allocation was however reversed by the Federal Government under President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2001 when the FG described the allocation process as dubious. The block was allocated to Shell in 2002.
Following the revocation, a prolonged legal battle ensued with Malabu taking the Federal Government to court. In 2006, the Federal Government reversed itself and re-allocated the oil block to Malabu. This angered Shell which then filed arbitration proceedings in Washington.
Following the protracted legal battles, an agreement was reached between all parties.
In an agreement titled “Block 245, Malabu resolution agreement” dated April 29, 2011 between Malabu and the Federal Government, the FG agreed to pay Malabu $1,092,040,000 in “full and final settlement of all its claims, interests or rights relating to OPL245.” The agreement also stated that the rights to the oil block would be reallocated to Agip and Shell.
In a separate agreement between Shell and Nigeria, titled “Block 245 resolution agreement,” the two multinationals (Agip and Shell) agreed to Pay the same sum “for the purposes of FGN settling all and any existing claims and/or issues over Block 245…”
In other words, the multinational oil firms agreed to pay $1.1bn to the FGN with the knowledge that the money would be used to settle any existing claims that existed by any other party to the oil block.
We didn’t pay to Etete
Despite knowing that the money was to be paid as settlement to a third party and knowing that Malabu was the only company with bragging rights over the oil block, Shell claims it did not know the money was to be paid to Mr. Etete’s Malabu.
“Shell was not aware that that money was to be paid to Malabu,” said Precious Okolobo, a communications officer with the oil company in a telephone interview.
Mr. Okolobo confirmed in a follow-up email that the “the Federal Government of Nigeria has allocated the deepwater offshore block OPL 245 jointly to Nigeria Agip Exploration (NAE) and Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo),” and that “each now holds 50 percent in OPL 245, with NAE as operator of the block.”
“Any payments relating to the issuance of the license were made only to the Federal Government of Nigeria,” the Shell official said saying “in line with Shell’s information policy, we cannot reveal commercially sensitive information, and hence cannot comment further on the papers filed in the New York court proceedings.”
The American court case
Mr. Etete ‘s company is being sued in the United States for alleged refusal to honour an agreement with ILC, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands. The company claims it helped negotiate the agreement Malabu had with the FG and was thus entitled to payment under “an engagement letter and fee agreement” it signed with Malabu on January 19, 2010.
“ILC contends that it fully performed its obligations under the fee agreement entitling it to a 6 per cent success fee amounting to $65,522,400 and that Malabu has indicated that it will not pay this amount,” the company told the court.
Another company allegedly owed by Malabu over OPL 245 had also sued the company in the UK which led to a court freeze of some accounts linked to the company and also to Nigeria.
The Federal Government, through the Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke had objected to the freezing of its account in a letter dated July 16, 2011 to the court saying “the FGN does not submit to the jurisdiction of the English courts and that this letter is sent only to claim immunity.
A history of corruption
Mr. Etete, who served as minister between 1995 and 1998, was convicted of money laundering in France in 2007. He was sentenced to three years in prison and given a fined $300,000. He was also asked to pay $150,000 to the Nigerian Government.
The former Minister appealed the ruling. In March 2009 however, a French appeal court confirmed the money laundering charges against Mr. Etete, and fined him $10.5 million after conviction.
Apart from money laundering and his controversial roles in oil block dealings, Mr. Etete is also believed to be a major beneficiary of the Halliburton bribe where $180 million dollars was paid as bribe to senior government officials by a consortium including a subsidiary of an American company, Halliburton.
Mr. Etete was an ally and business associate of Jeffery Tesler, the British middleman who coordinated the bribe scheme and who was recently convicted in the United States for his role in the bribe payment.
Neither Mr. Etete nor any other Nigerian has been convicted for the collection of the bribes; though the companies that made the payment and the middlemen have all been convicted or indicted in the United States and other host countries.