A witness in the OPL 245 trial in Italy on Monday told the court that former oil minister, Dan Etete, was fine paying hundreds of millions of dollars to the “political sponsors” of the controversial Malabu deal.
The witness, Vincenzo Armanna, former Eni manager and defendant in the corruption trial, alleged that “several ministers and senators were discussed” as beneficiaries while negotiating the deal.
The witness, however, said he could not remember anyone specifically being named as a recipient.
Mr Armanna also said that a presidential bodyguard showed him photos of a trolley with $50 million in cash, “like one used by the military for weapons, more than 1.5m high”. The money was allegedly put on a plane but he did not know where the plane went, he said.
The former Eni chief said that the bodyguard, Victor Nwafor, told him the money was for Nigerian officials.
The Malabu deal, struck during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, has become a subject of long-running trials and investigations across different jurisdictions.
Mr Armanna had last week appeared before the court and alleged that Eni officials knew that the controversial payment made in the deal would go to Malabu oil company, controlled by Mr Etete.
He also provided details of how Mr Jonathan’s ministers negotiated the controversial deal.
Speaking at the resumption of the trial on Monday, the former ENI chief said that he does not know who actually got money among those who negotiated the deal.
In June 2013, Mr Etete had told a British High Court that he was not the sole beneficiary of the $1.1 billion (N173 billion) transferred to the company.
The former minister told the court that he only made N37.5 billion ($250 million) working as a consultant for Malabu. He also did not name the other beneficiaries.
The Malabu Scandal
The Malabu OPL 245 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, Mr 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.
Shell, Eni, Mr Etete, Mr Aliyu and several officials of the oil firms are being prosecuted in Italy for their roles in the scandal.
On Monday at the resumed hearing, Mr Armanna was asked about the attempted transfer of the $1.1billion through Switzerland and a company controlled by Italian businessman and a former envoy.
He claimed that he warned that transferring the money through Falcioni and an Italian connected bank (BSI Lugano) was risky.
According to Barnaby Pace of Bristish anti-corruption group Global Witness who attended the trial, Mr Armanna said he discussed at a meeting in June 2011 with Mr Descalzi and other Eni executives about a private jet flying cash from Nigeria to Europe.
The prosecutor said the money did not get to Nigeria until August but Mr Armanna said his memory for dates may be faulty.
He alleged further that Eni’s current CEO, Claudio Descalzi, proposed using a different bank for the transfer and said that Nigerians should be in charge of the transfers of the money, not Italians.
While speaking about his relationship with former Nigerian Attorney General, Bayo Ojo, Mr Armanna was asked if the money he received from him was for helping Mr Ojo get paid by Mr Etete. The witness said he was in no position to help anyone because he had no power over who got what money and Mr Ojo was not involved in the deal.
Mr Armanna has last week claimed that the money he received from Mr Ojo was ‘inheritance’.
When asked if there is a connection between Mr Ojo receiving $10 million from the deal and then him sending Mr Armanna over $1 million just five months later, Mr Armanna denied that there was a connection. He said this came from separate business.
He added that he did not know Messrs Ojo and Falcioni were working together on the OPL 245 money transfer.
When the prosecutor countered by saying that his (Mr Armanna’s) emails showed Mr Ojo was advising on the attempted transfer of money to a Lebanese bank, the witness said he got the emails later “and didn’t read them”.
He also claimed to have known Mr Ojo since 2012 and had business with him in Nigeria, unconnected to Eni or Malabu deal.
The witness, however, became emotional when asked to recap how he was fired from Eni.
He started by saying that it was a hard time for him, explaining how his wife was pregnant at the time. He broke into tears and halted his testimony. Mr Armanna alleged further that former Eni CEO Scaroni had wanted him fired.
Speaking further, Mr Armanna said he thought Piero Amara was the person to help build bridges with Eni. In 2016, he said, Mr Amara then told him to quieten his criticism of Eni in exchange for getting him work in Nigeria.
In exchange, he said he was not offered money but was offered work at Eni, “some business in Dubai and more business in Nigeria”.
He claimed further that he thought Mr Amara represented Mr Descalzi. He said when they met in Rome, Mr Armanna said he was asked to change his testimony about “political sponsors” in OPL 245 and was given a sheet of paper with what he should say.
Mr Armanna then copied this into his new statement.
The witness also alleged that former President Goodluck Jonathan never stopped his petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, from ‘doing anything’ when she was in office.
He said this while giving details of what he was allegedly told about the relationship between the former president and the oil minister by Mr Nwafor, Mr Jonathan’s bodyguard.
He explained further that Mr Nwafor talked about the relationship between Mr Jonathan and Mrs Alison-Madueke and said the former president “never stopped her (from) doing anything”.
Mrs Alison-Madueke was considered very powerful within Nigeria’s power circle when she held sway as the nation’s oil minister. Apart from Malabu, she is facing trial on other alleged cases of corruption in Nigeria.
Mr Jonathan is not facing any trial over the Malabu case and has consistently denied wrongdoing over the case.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that Mr Armanna’s examination and cross-examination will continue later this week.
The trial will continue with other defence witnesses appearing from September after Italy’s summer break.