A former vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa at Royal Dutch Shell, Peter Robinson, has been referred to the Dutch authorities over alleged crimes related to an asset sale in Nigeria, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.
The leads came from the company’s investigation of charges related to a criminal trial of the company in Milan over another alleged bribery scheme related to the separate purchase of a Nigerian oil block called OPL 245, infamously dubbed the Malabu scandal.
The controversial deal has been a subject of litigations, with Shell denying any wrongdoing in the case.
“Based on what we know now from an internal investigation, we suspect a crime may have been committed by our former employee,” Shell said in an emailed statement.
“We were stunned and disappointed when we learned about this.”
His lawyer in the Milan case, Chiara Padovani, had last week said that her client denied accusations of corruption made by Italian prosecutors. On Wednesday, she was not available for comment.
The controversial Oil block OML 42 is located in the Niger Delta and was sold by Shell in 2011. It produces about 100,000 barrels a day according to Neconde Energy Ltd., now the operator of the block.
Details of the deal came into focus after prosecutors in Milan alleged that in the same year Shell and Italian oil company, Eni SpA, paid more than $1 billion for OPL 245, knowing that much of the money would go to pay bribes to Nigerian officials.
The criminal trial in Milan also involves Shell’s former upstream director, Malcolm Brinded and Eni’s current Chief Executive Officer, Claudio Descalzi.
As part of their investigations into whether part of Shell and Eni’s payment to the Nigerian government for OPL 245 was funneled to other individuals, prosecutors have been looking at links between Mr Robinson and a Seychelles-based company called Energy Venture Partners Ltd., court documents show.
A bank account linked to Mr. Robinson had earlier been frozen by the Attorney-General in Switzerland after requests for legal assistance from the Dutch and Italian authorities. Reports said several hundred million Swiss francs were in the account.
But a source told Bloomberg that Shell’s own investigation has concluded those accounts were not linked to the OPL 245 transaction, but instead may have been used for kickbacks from the sale of OML 42.
The scandal over the OPL 245 Malabu oil block began in 2011 when the Goodluck Jonathan administration approved its 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.
Jonathan administration officials, who participated in the negotiation preceding the controversial sale of the massive oil block included Mohammed Bello Adoke, Attorney-General at the time; and Diezani Alison-Madueke, who was the petroleum minister.
Mr. Jonathan himself was named by investigators as being involved in the alleged fraud, but the former president strongly denies the charges.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has been pursuing fraud and criminal conspiracy charges against Messrs Adoke and Etete and their alleged accomplices since 2016. Messrs Adoke and Etete are believed to be at large, and the anti-graft agency had repeatedly sought to fish them out.
Last October, during a meeting on assets recovery in Abuja, Nigeria’s Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, announced that the Nigerian government had successfully repatriated $85 million from the Malabu funds from the UK.
But in a letter to Mr Buhari, the same official in a dramatic turn advocated for the government to drop the charges against the chief suspects, including his predecessor, Mr Adoke, former petroleum ministers, Diezani Alison-Madueke and Mr Etete, in the alleged bribery scandal.
In the letter, Mr. Malami had argued that his examination of the case file showed that there was no significant evidence to prove sharp practices by the accused persons.
Curiously, another top government functionary and Nigeria’s oil minister, Ibe Kachikwu, also advised the president to cede the oil block to Eni and Shell but a counter-memo by EFCC chair, Ibrahim Magu, made the president overrule Mr Malami and order the anti-graft agency to continue the prosecution.
In February, a group of anti-corruption organisations asked the Attorney-General of the Federation, to explain the inconsistencies between his letter to President Muhammadu Buhari asking him to call off the prosecution of the main suspects in the Malabu oil deal, and the federal government’s application to a United Kingdom court that led to the repatriation of $85 million from the proceeds of OPL 245 frozen by the court.
Earlier in March, an Italian court postponed the trial of Eni and Shell from March 5 to May 14 as the Nigerian government dramatically presented two lawyers in court.