Details have emerged of how Umar Bature, a former member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, was arrested in London while distributing suspicious funds suspected to have been meant for a former Nigerian National Security Adviser (NSA), Aliyu Mohammed Gusau.
Mr Bature, an ally of Mr Gusau, was arrested after he met Jeffrey Tesler, a British businessman previously involved in the case of international corruption known as the “Bonny Island” Halliburton scandal. Mr Tesler also doubles as a friend and ally of Mr Gusau.
The money is suspected to be among the slush funds distributed in connection with the Malabu scandal.
The new details are found in documents obtained exclusively by PREMIUM TIMES from exhibits submitted in a case filed in the United States by oil giant, ENI.
Mr Tesler is a British citizen already implicated in the Halliburton-Bonny Island scandal regarding the bribery of Nigerian public officials, which also involved SAIPEM, a company that was until 2016 a subsidiary of ENI.
Mr Gusau, easily one of the most influential figures in Nigeria’s military intelligence circles, was head of the secret military service in Nigeria between 1988 and 1989. He later became director of national security for former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan. He also served briefly as Minister of Defence under Mr Jonathan.
Mr Bature was a member of the House of Representatives, where he represented Sokoto North/South Federal Constituency. He had earlier served in the Nigerian Armed Forces until he retired in 2003 and joined partisan politics. He is said to have become a “protegee” of Mr Gusau during his days in the Armed Forces. He is currently serving as Commissioner for Water Resources in Sokoto State.
The Malabu Backstory
The Malabu scandal involved the transfer of about $1.1 billion by Shell and ENI through the Nigerian government to accounts controlled by Dan Etete, a former Nigerian oil minister.
From the former minister’s accounts, prosecutors say about half the money went to accounts of companies controlled by Aliyu Abubakar, a middleman popularly known in Nigeria as the owner of AA oil. Anti-corruption investigators and activists suspect he fronted for top officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration as well of officials of Shell and ENI. He denied wrongdoing.
The Malabu transaction was authorised in 2011 by former President Goodluck Jonathan through some of his cabinet ministers and the money was payment for OPL 245, one of Nigeria’s richest oil blocks.
The oil resources of the OPL 245 license have remained undeveloped since the controversies began. ENI initiated international arbitration proceedings against Nigeria last September, alleging the government had breached its obligations by refusing to let the firm develop the license.
Fresh details seen in documents reviewed by PREMIUM TIMES have provided insights into the roles of other Nigerians in the long-running Malabu scandal.
In one of the exhibits submitted by Eni, Mr Tesler explained the role of Mr Bature in the scandal. Until now, Mr Bature’s name and alleged roles have never been reported in the controversial deal.
On January 9, 2014, details showed that Mr Tesler went into a police station in London, handed over a bag containing the sum of £378,670 in cash, and made statements about the circumstances under which he came into possession of the money.
In summary, Mr Tesler reported that he had entered into a cooperation agreement with the government of the United States, ostensibly regarding investigations on the Halliburton scandal, thus obtaining a type of immunity in exchange for his activities as an informant.
For this reason, through his lawyers in New York, he advised the US government of his meeting, on November 15, 2013, with a man of Nigerian nationality, who introduced himself as “Umar Bature”, who had informed him that Dan Etete, former Nigerian oil minister, intended to transfer to him the sum of $2 million at a foreign exchange office in Abuja.
Mr Bature had, therefore, asked him to provide bank details so as to credit the money to him. In response to his answer of not having an account that could be used for such purpose, Mr Bature said that the money, net of commissions for the transfer, could be collected by him in London in several tranches.
“According to Tesler, at that first meeting, he had not been told the origin of the money, nor the reason for which he was the beneficiary,” the document said.
“In the performance of the agreement entered into with the Department of Justice of the United States, he had drafted a memo summarising the content of the meeting with Bature, and had sent it to his lawyers, so that they could inform the United States legal authorities.”
Speaking further in his account to the British police officers, Mr Tesler stated that he had not had further news of Mr Etete and the money until the evening of January 8, 2014, when he received a phone call from General Mohammed Aliyu Gusau, who informed him that within a few minutes he would receive another phone call.
“Indeed, at 7:15 p.m., Umar Bature phoned him, presenting himself as the person he met on a previous occasion and asked if they could meet so that he could give him something,” the document said.
“They made an appointment to meet at 8:00 p.m. at the Cavendish Hotel on German Street in Piccadilly, where Bature stated he was staying. He immediately informed his lawyer, who told him the instructions received from the United States to collect the money and not spend it.
“Therefore, he went to the appointment, meeting with Bature in his room, and there received a very heavy suitcase, extracted from a case, inside which, according to Bature, there was the sum of GBP 378,000 in small bills. Bature asked him to return the following day to receive another suitcase and to discuss the commissions to be paid.
“After the meeting was finished, he immediately informed his lawyer of the events, who told him a few hours later that he would be contacted by an FBI agent. Indeed, the day after, at noon, he received a phone call from a certain John Coushad, who told him that he had already informed the police authorities of the United Kingdom and to not go to the next appointment with Bature.”
Speaking on how he met Mr Gusau, Mr Tesler explained that he had had a long relationship of continuous visits with him, meeting him whenever he came to London, which normally happened once every 4- 6 weeks, and speaking on these occasions of the political-economic events of Nigeria.
He added that he met Mr Bature in November 2013 and January 8, 2014, adding that he had not asked questions on the origin of the money and the reasons for which Mr Etete had sent it to him so as to not place himself in danger.
When asked by the English police agent whether he knew the reason why Mr Etete had sent him the money, he said, according to details of the exhibit: “…two million is a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of money which he collected from Shell and Agip …” The document added that Mr Tesler, therefore, “links the sum of money in cash given to him by Umar Bature on behalf of Dan Etete to the price received by the latter from ENI and Shell for OPL 245.”
The documents further explained that Mr Bature had had a role in the negotiation for the sale of OPL 245 because, since 2009, he has participated in meetings between Messrs Etete, Agaev, and employees of Shell. He was also serially identified as “Gusau man”.
The next day, the document showed, Mr Bature was arrested and interrogated by an agent of the anti-money laundering team of New Scotland Yard.
During interrogation, the document said, Mr Bature admitted to having been commissioned to take the amount of $1.4 million to Mr Tesler, a friend of his “boss”.
He also reportedly admitted to having gone along with his “boss” to currency exchange offices that were legally recognised in Nigeria to check how to transfer this sum of money to the United Kingdom and, indeed, agreed on the transfer to the United Kingdom in exchange for a commission of 7.8 per cent.
The document said that Mr Bature also confirmed that his “boss”, from whom he received the assignment, is General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, a Nigerian minister at the time. He also added that he flew to London from Dubai at the request of the General to deliver the money to Mr Tesler.
Mr Bature also claimed, according to the documents, to have handed over to Mr Tesler, who he had already met previously several times, the sum of GBP 374,000, as the first tranche of a total sum of 1.3 million allocated to him. He added that he received the money, in turn, from a Nigerian citizen, who was also arrested, named Gabriel Oziegbe.
“In actual fact, the money given by Tesler and seized by the British authorities amounted to GBP 378,670. Also, Gabriel Oziegbe was interrogated by the English police and confirmed Bature’s story. A considerable further amount of money in cash, for a total amount of $50,000 and GBP 82,173, was seized from him,” the document reads in part.
“The general Aliyu Mohammed, to whom Bature refers, is certainly the General Aliyu Mohamed Gusau, given that he held a variety of positions in the Nigerian Armed Forces up to the highest levels of the secret services of that country, and was then national security adviser to two presidents of the republic.
“Gusau has been a friend of Tesler for years, as stated by the latter; it was Gusau who told Tesler in advance, on the same day, about Bature’s telephone call pre-announcing the delivery of the money. Bature was already indicated in 2009 as “a man of Gusau” by Copleston, who, by collecting information on the field in Nigeria on behalf of Shell on the strength of his previous experience as an MI6 agent, probably came to know about the relationship between the two, dating back to their common past of belonging to the Nigerian Armed Forces.”
The document claimed that the revelation reflects the statements of Ednan Agaev, an ex-Russian diplomat, regarding the fact that in relation to the deal of OPL 245, “Gusau was expecting a commission from Etete”. The revelation also finds confirmation in the statements made to the investigators by Jonathan Benton, the former head of the Corruption Unit of the Metropolitan Police of London, which had investigated the OPL 245 Malabu saga, it added.
Messrs Etete and Gusau are believed to be close allies. In one of his disclosures in 2019, Mr Agaev claimed that he was introduced to Mr Etete by Mr Gusau in 2008.
When contacted Thursday night, Mr Bature told PREMIUM TIMES he had nothing to say about the matter.
Mr Gusau, on his part, did not return telephone calls and text messages seeking comments from him.
In March, PREMIUM TIMES reported how an Italian court in Milan acquitted Shell, Eni and their managers in the long-drawn Malabu trial. But prosecutors reportedly lodged appeals against the verdict. An Italian newspaper quoted a Milan prosecutor as describing the acquittal judgment as “thin and illogical”.
Anti-corruption groups monitoring the case in Nigeria and across Europe, including the Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA), Corner House and Re: Common, also criticised the acquittal judgement which they said distorted and ignored vital evidence.
“Our own analysis suggests that the Milan judgment was deeply flawed,” Lanre Suraj, chair of HEDA, was quoted as saying in a joint statement in August.
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