Malabu Scandal: Drama as Eni officials decline to give evidence

Shell-and-Eni
Shell and Eni photo used to illustrate the story. [Photo credit: THISDAYLIVE]

The controversial Malabu scandal took a dramatic turn Wednesday in Italy as defendants of oil giant Eni said they will not appear in court to give evidence on charges filed against them.

PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the exception is former Eni manager, Vincenzo Armanna, who accused his fellow managers of seeking to obtain kickbacks.

They have all denied wrongdoing, according to anti-corruption campaigners monitoring the trials in Milan, Italy.

The Wednesday session also saw Peter Cameron, a tax consultant for Shell, taken to task on his expert’s report sanctifying the heavily criticised 2011 agreements on OPL 245.

Backstory

The Malabu scandal involved the transfer of about $1.1 billion by Shell and ENI through the Nigerian government to accounts controlled by a former Nigerian petroleum minister, Dan Etete.

From accounts controlled by Mr Etete, about half the money ($520 million) went to accounts of companies controlled by Aliyu Abubakar, popularly known in Nigeria as the owner of AA oil.

Anti-corruption investigators and activists suspect he fronted for top officials of the Jonathan administration as well of officials of Shell and ENI.

The transaction was authorised in 2011 by Mr Jonathan through some of his cabinet ministers and 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.

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Shell, Eni, Mr Etete, Mr Aliyu and several officials of the oil firms are being prosecuted in Italy for their roles in the scandal.

Rigorous session

On Wednesday, Olanrewaju Suraj of the Human and Environmental Development Agenda, HEDA, who was at the Milan court, said that the prosecutors and counsel to the Nigerian government performed “excellently”.

When asked whether the 2011 contract was a Production Sharing Agreement or Production Sharing Contract. Mr Cameron reportedly said that he wasn’t part of the negotiation. Again, when asked if there was an exemption in Capital Gain Tax Law of Nigeria by the prosecutor, the expert replied that the question was not relevant. But after the presiding judge reportedly protested and demanded an answer, he admitted that he did not know.

Mr Cameron, who described capital gain tax exemption as “complex”, said his understanding was that in Nigeria, tax authority could in future look at contracts and review tax conditions and extract due tax not paid.

Mr Suraj added that although that was Mr Cameron’s position, it is not the position of the law. “OECD guidelines on taxes and business (are) very clear on taxes administration and governance; tax incentives should be provided with tax laws,” he tweeted. “Not violation and or avoidance of tax laws in business countries like Nigeria.”

Mr Cameron reportedly admitted that he is not an expert on Nigerian tax law but was only contracted to present an expert report in support of tax clauses in a contract with Nigeria.

When asked if the government could not have achieved the same benefits and responsibilities at no cost from the onset of the PSA, the tax expert said: “it is complicated.”

PREMIUM TIMES gathered that he was also queried on his assertion that there is no material difference between the 2012 PSA and other Production Sharing Contracts, PSCs.

At the end of the session, Mr Suraj said he was “impressed” by the performance of Nigerian government counsels because they “destroyed” the foundation of arguments and assertions of “a professor expert with decades of consultancy with Worldbank.”

Although the Nigerian government is not a direct party in the trial, the government was approved by the court to have a counsel during the proceedings.

In Nigeria, trial is being stalled because Nigeria’s anti-graft agency said principal suspects have been on the run. They include Mr Aliyu; Mohammed Adoke, a former Attorney General and Minister of Justice; and Mr Etete.

They are being prosecuted alongside Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Company, and ENI, as well as Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd, Rocky Top Resource Ltd, Imperial Union Ltd, Novel Properties & Dev. Co. Ltd, Group Construction Ltd, and Megatech Engineering Ltd.

Mr Jonathan, whose government brokered the deal in 2011, is not facing trial over the case.

In a recent interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Adoke, who played a major role in the negotiation and signing of the 2011 agreement, claimed that he did no wrong.

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