Nigeria’s former Attorney-General, Bello Adoke, has been heard on a recorded telephone conversation admitting that he knew the controversial Malabu Oil deal was a “presidential scam” whose execution led to fraudulent diversion of billions of naira amongst dubious collaborators across the world, a new court filing says.
The recorded telephone call, which was placed by Carlamaria Rumor of RAI Television in Italy, is the latest material to cast light on Mr Adoke’s role as a principal player in the questionable deal —and one who continues to conceal crucial aspects of what he might know to both the Nigerian public and federal authorities alike.
The audio was filed before a Milan court, and has been accepted as an exhibit that could form a major part of Italian authorities’ prosecution of the case. PREMIUM TIMES has however not independently verified the audio.
In the 1hr 17 mins conversation held on November 5, 2015, Mr Adoke appears to be telling Ms Rumor that Dan “Etete collaborated with some Italian oil workers” to “divert some funds to foreign accounts” in an “illegal” move that “betrayed” the spirit of a tripartite agreement which the Nigerian government entered into with Italian oil giant Agip-Eni and Royal Dutch Shell on the one hand and Malabu Oil and Gas on the 0ther.
Mr Adoke, AGF from 2010-2015, admitted that Mr Etete, an ex-convict, was actively involved in the talks held between Nigerian government officials representatives of Agip-Eni, Shell and other players. This indicates that Mr Adoke recognised Mr Etete as the owner of Malabu Oil and Gas and dealt with him accordingly, thereby sidestepping Mohammed Abacha and other beneficial owners of the controversial oil firm.
A few years before the deal, Mr Etete, former petroleum minister, had been convicted in France for money laundering, with the French appeal court upholding the judgement.
In negotiating with Mr Etete, Mr Adoke apparently ignored his criminal past and other red flags raised about him and Malabu to authorise the deal.
The audio also marks the first time Mr Adoke, at large for over two years now, would appear to be admitting personal knowledge of the unspeakable corruption that went down in the depletion of the $1.3 billion which Agip-Eni and Shell paid to the Nigerian government for onward transmission to Malabu Oil for the purchase of OPL 245 oil field in offshore Nigerian waters.
Ms Rumor had called Mr Adoke, 54, to get the insight of the infamous 2011 deal that had so far spawned several corruption investigations across at least five jurisdictions. As the reporter assured Mr Adoke at the time, no story was published from the discussion.
PREMIUM TIMES on Friday obtained the lengthy telephone call, which has now been admitted in a Milan court as exhibit that could form a major part of Italian authorities’ prosecution of the case.
The development comes barely three weeks after the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court ruled that Mr Adoke could not be held liable for some presidential powers he exercised while the Malabu Oil deal was being perfected between 2010 and 2011.
But the anti-graft agency could still try the former AGF on other criminal charges that might have occurred during the deal, especially on allegations that he received $2.2 million in bribes.
Mr Adoke could not be reached for comments about his incriminating conversation with Ms Rumor. PREMIUM TIMES reached out to his Nigerian lawyers, Ade Okeaya-Inneh and Michael Nomeh, for comments, but they both frustrated the efforts throughout Friday. Also Victor Akhidenor, a sports journalist who had been widely quoted in the media (not in PREMIUM TIMES) as working for Mr Adoke, said he could not comment on the allegations and referred all enquiries to the lawyers.
Although the conversation, the filed audio shows, frequently broke into Mr Adoke demanding to have “a personal relationship” with the journalist, he managed to give out some of those he believed illegally benefited from the deal, mentioning Mr Etete, Aliyu Abubakar and Emeka Obi.
Like Mr Etete, the three individuals he mentioned were also identified by Italian prosecutors as persons of interest in an ongoing criminal proceedings over the controversial deal.
Another common denominator amongst these suspects is that they have all gone underground. While Mr Adoke was sighted in the Netherlands for some time, no one has been able to say for sure where the rest are, despite claims by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission that they are actively being sought.
When Ms Rumor sought to know the whereabouts or personal contact of Mr Etete, Mr Adoke told her he would not disclose any information until the two become close enough as he had repeatedly demanded in the minutes preceding this mark.
“Releasing” Mr Etete contact to you “is like a betrayal of my country,” Mr Adoke told the reporter. “But if I know you and I have been having relationship with you, building trust with you regularly, then I can be able to tell you some of these things.”
But Mr Adoke said whenever politically-exposed persons like Mr Etete or the remaining collaborators run away from Nigeria “they leave their family and property behind,” suggesting that he could track Mr Etete if Ms Rumor showed serious interest by having a relationship with him.
He repeated that the Malabu Oil deal payout “was not supposed to go to Mr Etete,” but the former petroleum minister had his way because he was aided by “Italian oil workers” and members of the “Italian mafia” to take charge of a good chunk of the money.
This is the first time Mr Adoke is caught accusing Mr Etete and others of participating in the fraud.
Since his first comprehensive response to the allegations in 2012, Mr Adoke has carefully left out Mr Etete and other suspects in all his denials. This could be because he knew that Mr Etete and others could expose his own involvement in the scam if he mentioned their names.
Mr Etete was arrested and arraigned before a federal judge a few years ago, but he fled the country after being granted bail.
Mr Adoke’s tactics was similar to the one deployed by Agip-Eni and Shell. For years, they also denied knowing that Mr Etete would be the ultimate beneficiary of the payment, until last April when Shell admitted to the New York Times that they all knew Mr Etete is an ex-convict and the payment would go to him.
It was also around the same time that former President Goodluck Jonathan was named in the Malabu Oil case file of the F.B.I. as having received up to $200 million in bribes out of the deal.
Mr Jonathan strongly denied this allegation.
Cozying up, offering millions
Throughout the telephone conversation, Mr Adoke could barely contain his appetite for ‘a relationship’ with Ms Rumor. He declared dozens of times that he had ‘an agenda’ and wanted to build ‘a relationship’ with the journalist. At some point, he interjected as Ms Rumor was trying to trying to get a clarification and offered to give her millions from the Malabu Oil largess.
“I have a personal agenda,” Mr Adoke said. “I have a personal agenda to meet you in person.”
Then a moment down the conversation, he started speaking about how some people from Italy had been contacting him for a share of the Malabu Oil deal. An apparently befuddled Ms Rumor asked Mr Adoke to give her the names of the Italians who had contacted him for money and the reason they wanted the money.
He declined to give the names, saying he will not betray people who discussed their “personal interest” with him. Ms Carla asked whether he informed the EFCC, but he said he did not do so because it was not in his place to report people who sought help from him to authorities.
Shortly thereafter, Mr Adoke asked whether Ms Rumor wanted a huge stash of the Malabu Oil funds that he said the Nigerian government had recovered and kept in a ‘reserve account’.
“Would you want some of the money that was recovered, for your personal,” he said. “Would you want some part of the money recovered to be remitted to you, this would be for your personal consideration.”
“I am not calling you for the money, I am calling you for information,” the reporter said.
Mr Adoke also asked Ms Rumor whether she was married and she said ‘no’.
“Can you call me in your privacy so that we can talk?” Mr Adoke said, imploring the woman to call him when she reached him at night.
It was unclear whether Mr Adoke meant it when he offered money to Ms Rumor, as it sounded more like a desperate scheme to lure her into coming to see him than anything else.
This is especially because when Ms Rumor asked how Mr Adoke would get the money to her if she actually wanted it, he responded by saying he was “speaking in parables.”
He then said if the journalist wanted the money, she should ask for it using her private e-mail and phone number, adding that she would get the money because the Malabu Oil scandal was not longer an issue in Nigeria.
“It is already a closed case here,” Mr Adoke said of the scandal. “But if you’re interested in the millions, you let me know from your personal e-mail, from your personal phone number.”
“If you make the demand, I am in a position to make it possible,” he said.
He said he did not want to discuss the matter by Ms Rumor’s office telephone because he is “a trained legal expert” who understands “how everything works.”
“You shouldn’t be asking me in public,” he said.
Mr Adoke also suggested that he could use Ms Rumor to launder millions which they would both share later, saying Nigerian politicians “collaborate with people they trust and transfer or divert funds to them” abroad. “If I can have personal relationship with you.”
The journalist repeatedly shrugged off Mr Adoke’s lustful advances towards her and the conversation ended with Mr Adoke still repeating that he might not answer her phone again unless she showed interest in having “a personal relationship” with him.
Mr Adoke mentioned in the conversation that he would leave the country that weekend, but did not say where he was going to or when he would be back. If he actually left Nigeria in November 2015, it was unclear where he had been sighted in Nigeria ever since.
He was said to be taking a course in the Netherlands, but it remained unclear whether he had concluded this. His apartment in that country was once reportedly raided by authorities there, but it was not clear what items they found.
‘Underhand dealings exposed’
An anti-corruption campaigners who weighed in on the development with PREMIUM TIMES Friday night said Mr Adoke and others players in the $1.3 billion deal would have no place to hide.
“This is the latest indication that there are so many underhand dealings,” said Lanre Suraj of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC). “These underhand dealings have been exposed and more would still be exposed.”
“Now that it has been confirmed that Dan Etete, a convicted criminal, was also on the table during the discussion of Malabu Oil deal,” he said.
Mr Suraj advised all those involved in the scandal to immediately own up and save the government immense time and resources needed to arrest and prosecute them.
Messrs Adoke and Etete, Agip-Eni, Shell are currently being prosecuted by the EFCC. But how far the anti-graft agency’s efforts would go remained unclear. In January, Attorney-General Abubakar Malami warned that the EFCC cannot successfully prosecute all the suspects based on the evidence in its possession, saying there is still a lot of work to be done in gathering watertight evidence.
However, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, has been mounting pressure on the administration to allow Agip-Eni continue development of some parts of the field.
“Total investment from Agip involved in both the Zabazaba field, the power plant and the new refinery is in excess of $15 billion. That is major push in terms of our search for investment,’’ Mr. Kachikwu said after emerging from another meeting with then-Acting President Yemi Osinbajo at the State House on May 9, 2017.
Nigeria’s slow pace in unraveling the scandal has lingered even as Italian prosecutors had filed criminal charges against Shell executives suspected to be involved in the deal. The prosecutors are also reportedly making progress in their criminal allegations against some Nigerian players named in the scandal.