The identity of an alleged security aide to a former Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, generated ripples at an Italian Court on Wednesday as hearing resumed on the controversial Malabu oil deal.
Victor Nwafor – said to be a security aide of Mr Jonathan – was alleged to have informed a former manager of Eni and defendant in the corruption trial, Vincenzo Armanna, about cash being taken to the house of Casula Roberto, another party to the controversial deal.
Earlier in January, a certain Mr Nwafor gave evidence in the trial via video conference and denied knowledge of Mr Armanna’s claim. He also denied knowing Mr Armanna. In July, Mr Armanna re-stated in court that Mr Nwafor told him about hundreds of millions of cash of the OPL 245 proceeds which allegedly got to Mr Jonathan.
But on Wednesday, Mr Armanna’s lawyer asked the court to hear once again the witness “Victor Nwafor”, arguing that the right person has finally been identified and is willing to stand in court. Mr Armanna’s defence informed the court that in a week time, the “real Victor Nwafor” will send a statement detailing all circumstances and why he wants to be heard.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that court called for a break to decide on whether to accept the new witness. But according to Antonio Tricarico of the Italian civic group,Re:Common, who was at the court, all other defences stood against the option.
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Subsequently, the court rejected the request by Mr Armanna’s defence to hear the “real Victor Nwafor”.
According to Mr Armanna, the “real Victor Nwafor” knew of two trolleys full of $50 million in cash which ended up in Mr Casula’s villa in Nigeria as kickbacks for Eni’s managers.
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.
The payout immediately became a subject of 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.
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.
Shell, Eni, Mr Etete, Mr Aliyu and several officials of the oil firms are being prosecuted in Nigeria and Italy for their roles in the scandal.
On Wednesday, Stefano Piotti, a witness, was brought in to shed light on the issues and how the payment was made. Mr Piotti is involved with Gianfranco Falcioni – defendant and Honorary Counsel of Italy – in few companies, including Alcon and Petrol Service Co. In 2011, Petrol Service Co. tried to move twice the Opl245 money paid by Eni and Shell but failed on both occasions.
Mr Piotti in his testimony revealed that in April 2011, he met former Nigerian Attorney General, Bayo Ojo, who brought three lawyers reviewing the Opl245 agreements and in particular the role that Petrol Service would have to get the payments from Eni and Shell for an agreed fee. Petrol Service was incorporated in July 2010, got involved in the deal only in March 2011 and did not have the capacity to review the agreement. Thus, he noted, they asked bank BSI in Switzerland to do due diligence of the deal.
Mr Piotti said he did not know what Mr Ojo said in court, but that since December 2010, Petrol Service was discussed as a possible vehicle to get the money paid by Eni and Shell to go to Malabu. At first, Mr Falcioni did not tell Mr Piotti that the former AG was involved in the deal.
Then, he suggested that he understood that Mr Ojo did not trust Mr Etete at Malabu and wanted Mr Falcioni to be a guarantor of the payment to be sure to get Mr Ojo his share.
“BSI sent the money back, I do not know whether due to formal correctness or out of politeness” he explained, then admitted to the prosecutor that his colleague Bianchi was informed of compliance problems by BSI and they agreed to send the money back.
“Ojo was not ready yet with his own foreign bank accounts,” he added. “Then I used to work in Lebanon and had a friend working in banks and asked for his advice. He suggested to try with another bank there. Petrol Service was supposed to get 5 milion USD, not 20 million.”
Justice Tremolada remarked, in response to Mr Piotti: “Email show that Falcioni was in touch with Armanna of Eni. If you recall all well, how is it possible that you do not know that Armanna worked for Eni?”
Mr Piotti eventually left the room, but prosecutors disagreed with Mr Falcioni’s defense who wanted to drop the other two witnesses.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that prosecutors still want to hear the witnesses—Messrs Bianchi and Macchi, both connected with Petrol Service. The court will, however, decide next time.
BSI had been the oldest bank in the Swiss canton of Ticino until its integration into EFG Bank and the following renaming into EFG, which took place in 2017.
Last July, Mr Armanna revealed that the role of Mr Etete and his conviction for money laundering was known inside Eni, as it was discussed and the company’s legal office knew about it.
The former Eni chief said Ednan Agaev, another middleman, was very well known and respected, as he was close to Mr Jonathan and another former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo.
He also disclosed the pseudonyms given to different parties to the deal, saying Mr Etete was often referred to as “The fat man”, Mr Jonathan as “Fortunato” and former oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke as “La Senora” and the project to buy OPL 245 was called “Clear Vision”.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how a British judge had also said she was convinced the ‘fortunato’ referenced in various OPL 245 mails referred to Mr Jonathan. Mr Agaev had in June spoken about his relationships with Messrs Obasanjo and others.
In Nigeria, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had since 2017 filed charges against Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Co. Ltd, Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited, Eni Spa, Raph Wetzels, Casula Roberto, Pujato Stefeno, Burrato Sebastiano, Duazia Louya Etete (aka Dan Etete), Mr Adoke, Mr Abubakar and Malabu Oil & Gas Limited.
They are alleged to be complicit in the laundering and diversion of the money paid by oil giants, Shell and Eni, through the Nigerian government to Malabu, a company controlled by Mr Etete.
The EFCC, however, says the case has stalled because it has not been able to file charges against Mr Adoke who is on self-exile abroad. Mr Adoke has denied any wrongdoing and alleged persecution by the EFCC.
Mr Jonathan, who is not under any probe over the matter, has also consistently denied wrongdoing.