A controversial letter by Nigeria’s attorney general, Abubakar Malami, almost frustrated the corruption trial of two multinationals in Italy.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how Mr Malami wrote the letter to President Muhammadu Buhari recommendending the stoppage of the trial of suspects involved in the Malabu OPL 245 scandal.
The anti-graft agency is prosecuting Shell, ENI, ex-petroleum minister Dan Etete, Mr Adoke and others for their roles in the scandal. Unlike the Italian trial, the trial of the suspects in Nigeria has been largely stalled due to the EFCC’s inability to serve court papers on former Attorney General Mohammed Adoke, former Minister Dan Etete, and controversial businessman Abubakar Aliyu.
The Malabu scandal involved the transfer of about $1.1 billion by Shell and ENI through the Nigerian government to accounts controlled by Mr Etete and Mr Aliyu. About half the money went to Mr Aliyu’s accounts. Anti-corruption investigators and activists suspect he fronted for top officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
The transaction was authorised in 2011 by President Goodluck Jonathan through some of his cabinet ministers. The money was payment for OPL 245, one of Nigeria’s richest oil blocks.
Although Shell and ENI initially claimed they did not know the money would end up with Mr Etete and his cronies, evidence has shown that claim to be false.
Shell, Eni, Mr Etete and several officials of the oil firms are also being prosecuted in Italy for their roles in the scandal.
During the Italian trial on Tuesday, a lawyer to Mr Etete tried to use Mr Malami’s letter as evidence his client did no wrong in the deal.
In his letter to Mr Buhari, Mr Malami said following due examination of the case files. he was able to determine that the EFCC has no significant evidence to prove its allegations of sharp practices against Mr Adoke, Mr Etete and others.
Mr Malami’s claim has since been punctured by the EFCC, whose official testified before the Italian court in Milan on Wednesday.
The EFCC investigator, Ibrahim Ahmed, told the Milan court that the allocation of OPL 245 in 1998 to Malabu, a company owned under false identity by Mr Etete (using a fictional character, Kweku Amafegha) and Mohammed Abacha, violated all extant laws guiding the allocation of oil blocks in Nigeria at the material time.
Mr Ahmed graphically described how Mr Etete manipulated Malabu’s shares. He also named two businessmen, Oyewole Fasawe and Gabriel Volpi of Intel, of paying about $5 million to own part of Malabu.
He said the payment was made without the knowledge of Mohammed Abacha, an original holder of 50 per cent shares of Malabu from inception.
Mr Abacha is a son of the late military dictator, Sani Abacha. It was during Mr Abacha’s dictatorship that Mr Etete, as petroleum minister, awarded OPL 245 to Malabu in 1998.
The Etete Gamble
Under cross-examination, the lawyer to Mr Etete presented a newspaper report of the letter written by Mr Malami as evidence his client did no wrong.
The prosecutor, Fabio Depasquale, objected to the use of the newspaper article or report of the letter. The court president requested five minutes break to rule on the objection.
At resumption, the judge upheld the objection of the prosecutor and the evidence was rejected.
The lawyer to Mr Etete, obviously relying on the letter for his cross-examination, abruptly withdrew from further cross-examination after the court’s ruling.
Without the timely objection of the prosecutor, Mr Malami would have subjected the country to another round of international embarrassment, like what happened during the case instituted against the federal government by Mr Adoke, said activist Lanre Suraj, who has been monitoring the Italian trial.
“If the report had been admitted, the prosecutor had planned to embarrass Mr Malami by tendering in evidence President Muhammadu Buhari’s reply where he turned down the disgraceful legal advice,” Mr Suraj said.