Eighteen years after Nigeria’s richest oil block, OPL 245, was controversially awarded to a new company, the then petroleum minister has been charged for crimes related to the block.
Dan Etete was petroleum minister in 1998 under the military dictator, Sani Abacha, when the block was awarded to Malabu Oil and Gas, a firm he partly owned. The company was registered on April 20, 1998 and was awarded the block nine days later.
The Department of Petroleum Resources last week confirmed that due process was not followed in the award of the block and that it was awarded to Malabu only on the directive of Mr. Abacha.
In the nine-count charge filed at the Federal High Court by the anti-graft agency, EFCC, on Tuesday, Mr. Etete featured in seven of them.
However, the charges were not related to the controversial award of the block in 1998, they were related to incidents that happened 13 years later, in 2011.
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 Mr. 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 last week 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 Malabu, 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 were 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 Abubakar Aliyu 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 on Tuesday 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.
The nine-count charge filed by the EFCC on Tuesday has nine defendants, Messrs. Etete, Abubakar and Adoke; Malabu Oil and Gas ltd; and Mr. Aliyu’s five companies.
The counts against Mr. Etete were that he fraudulently received a total of $801 million from the Nigerian government. The two against Mr. Adoke were that he aided the transfer of the money to Mr. Etete and conspired with him to “commit money laundering offences…”
Mr. Aliyu was accused of receiving a total of $478.6 million fraudulently from the transaction.
With the courts going on recess from Wednesday, the suit is expected to be assigned to a judge with trial commencing early next year.
It is not clear if all the accused will appear for trial though. Mr. Adoke is currently in the Netherlands while Mr. Etete, who was granted administrative bail by the EFCC is suspected to have fled Nigeria.
Also, the suit filed on Tuesday is expected to be the first of a series to be filed in relation to the juicy OPL 245.