A new twist was added to the controversial Malabu scandal on Wednesday when details emerged that Russia asked Italy to drop charges against a former ambassador caught up in the long-running Nigerian corruption case.
Reuters reports that legal documents seen Wednesday showed that authorities in Russia plan to ensure charges against Ednan Agaev, a former ambassador, were dropped.
The Malabu deal, struck in 2011 under former President Goodluck Jonathan, saw the Nigerian government act as a negotiator in the sale of OPL 245 oil block in offshore Nigerian waters.
Two international oil and gas giants, Royal Dutch Shell and Italian Agip-Eni, paid out about $1.1 billion to Dan Etete, a former Nigerian petroleum minister who had previously been convicted of money laundering in France. The payout would later become a subject of a cross-border investigation spanning over six countries.
Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi and four ex-Shell managers, including former Shell Foundation Chairman, Malcolm Brinded, are on trial in one of the largest cases in the history of the oil and gas industry. All the accused have denied wrongdoing.
Two men named in the case – Emeka Obi, a Nigerian consultant in England, and Gianluca Di Nardo, an Italian – stood as middlemen in connecting parties and ensured the transfer of the funds through international bank accounts in the oil deal, prosecutors alleged. They have been convicted in Italy.
At the centre of the scandal is a former petroleum minister, Dan Etete. Mr Etete is alleged to have fraudulently received a total of $801 million from the Nigerian government, part of the money paid by the oil giants. He is believed to have worked with Mr Agaev, a former Russian ambassador in Colombia, who also served as an intermediary in the deal.
Details showed that Mr. Etete had decided to cash in on the block based on advice from desperate businessmen like Mr Agaev.
Mr Agaev sued in New York for a payment he wanted from Malabu out of the OPL 245 deal. He was later reported to have launched arbitration to seek a $65 million fee from Malabu for his work as a go-between and eventually reached an out-of-court settlement, details of which were not disclosed.
Mr Agaev, who has denied wrongdoing, is among individuals charged with international corruption in the controversial oil deal.
On Wednesday, documents filed by prosecutors with the Milan court showed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov handed a letter to his Italian counterpart in Moscow at a meeting on October 8, calling on Italian authorities to be “reasonable”.
Reuters reports that the letter said Russia was convinced Mr Agaev had committed no wrongdoing.
“We hope the Italian authorities adopt a reasonable approach and after respective checks find a way to change the status of E.T. Agaev from accused to witness,” an excerpt from the letter read.
Sergio Spadaro, an Italian prosecutor, described the request as “surprising” during hearing Wednesday.
The Malabu deal is believed to have reduced Nigeria’s expected revenue by nearly $6 billion, according to a new report by the anti-corruption group, Global Witness.
The group in its report released in November titled: Take the Future, said the projected lost revenue could fund Nigeria’s combined annual federal health and education budgets twice over.
The report drew on an analysis from leading experts at Resources for Development Consulting commissioned by Global Witness and NGOs HEDA, RE:Common and The Corner House.
The analysis of the contract terms estimated these changes could reduce the Nigerian government’s projected revenue from the oil fields by $5.86 billion over the lifetime of the project when compared to the terms that had applied before the 2011 deal and assuming an oil price of $70 per barrel.