Details emerged Thursday that the Nigerian government has filed a $1.1 billion lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell and Eni in a commercial court in London over the controversial Malabu oil deal.
Reuters reports Thursday that the new London case relates to payments made by the companies to get the OPL 245 oilfield licence in 2011. The deal is also subject of an ongoing corruption trial in Milan in which former and current Shell and Eni officials are on the bench.
The controversial Malabu deal involves Africa’s most promising oil block and was struck in 2011 under former President Goodluck Jonathan. The arrangement saw the Nigerian government stand as a negotiator in the controversial sale of the 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 immediately became a subject of a cross-border investigation spanning over six countries. Several Nigerian government officials were believed to have received several million dollars in bribes for the enabling roles they played.
Milan prosecutors allege bribes totalling around $1.1 billion were paid to win the licence to explore the field which, because of disputes, has never entered into production.
Rather than revoke the deal, the Nigerian government is currently allowing the oil firms to process one of the fields in the block, called Zabazaba. Although the oil giants and their Nigerian collaborators are also being prosecuted in Nigeria, the government, through the petroleum minister, Ibe Kachikwu, has argued that is more interested in striking a financial deal with the oil majors.
But the Nigerian government has filed a suit in London.
“It is alleged that purchase monies purportedly paid to the Federal Republic of Nigeria were in fact immediately paid through to a company controlled by Dan Etete, formerly the Nigerian minister of petroleum, and used for, amongst other things, bribes and kickbacks,” the Nigerian government said on Thursday.
“Accordingly, it is alleged that Shell and Eni engaged in bribery and unlawful conspiracy to harm the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that they dishonestly assisted corrupt Nigerian government officials.”
Shell in its response said “the 2011 settlement of long-standing legal disputes related to OPL 245 was a fully legal transaction with Eni and the Federal Government of Nigeria, represented by the most senior officials of the relevant ministries.”
On its part, Eni said in an emailed statement it rejected “any allegation of impropriety or irregularity in connection with this transaction.”
“Eni (…) signed a commercial agreement in 2011 for a new licence for OPL 245 with the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company and the consideration for the license was paid directly to the Nigerian government,” it said.
In November 2017, the Nigerian state quietly issued a civil claim in the High Court, arguing JP Morgan had been “grossly negligent” when it was banker to a previous government.
The claim, sanctioned by Nigeria’s attorney-general and seen by a PREMIUM TIMES’ partner, Finance Uncovered, alleged JP Morgan did not act “with the reasonable care and skill to be expected of a bank in compliance with the laws of England and Wales” when it authorised enormous payments resulting from an oil deal in 2011.
The controversial Malabu deal claimed its first convicts when a Nigerian man and his accomplice in Italy were sentenced to four years each for their roles in the controversial deal. Emeka Obi, a Nigerian consultant in England, and Gianluca Di Nardo, an Italian, stood as middlemen in connecting the parties and the transfer of the funds through international bank accounts.
They were found guilty and sentenced four years each and had some assets confiscated in connection with the case. The pair had opted for a quick trial for their roles in the deal. The process in Italian law offers a possible reduction in any sentence.
A new report by the anti-corruption group, Global Witness, said in November that Shell and Eni’s deal for Nigeria’s OPL 245 oil block reduced Nigeria’s expected revenue by nearly $6 billion.
The group in its new report titled ‘Take the Future’ said the projected lost revenue could fund Nigeria’s combined annual federal health and education budgets twice over.
A number of Nigerian officials are suspected to have aided the controversial deal. Mr Etete could not be reached for comment but has previously denied wrongdoing.
Mr Jonathan, under whose watch the deal was struck, is not undergoing any trial over the case. He has also denied wrongdoing.