An Italian judge has ordered a controversial businessman, Aliyu Abubakar, to stand trial, for his role in the Malabu OPL 245 scandal.
Reuters reported Wednesday that the Milan prosecutors alleged that Mr Abubakar played a major role in one of the oil industry’s biggest scandal in years.
The controversial businessman, through his companies, received over half of the $1.1 billion paid by Shell and Eni for OPL 245. He also allegedly gave out more than $500 million in cash to powerful Nigerian government officials.
But Mr Abubakar’s Italian lawyer, Davide Pozzi, said his client, who lives in Nigeria, denies any wrongdoing in the case.
“Mr Abubakar will clarify his position in the appropriate place,” he was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The controversial Malabu deal was struck in 2011 under former President Goodluck Jonathan. The arrangement saw the Nigerian government stand as a negotiator in the controversial sale of the oil block in offshore Nigerian waters.
Two international oil firms, Shell and Eni, paid out about $1.1 billion to Nigerian government accounts in the UK which then transferred most of the money to Malabu, a company then controlled by Nigeria’s former petroleum minister, Dan Etete.
It was Mr Etete’s Malabu that transferred the over $500 million to accounts controlled by Mr Abubakar, who is also being prosecuted in Nigeria for his role in the scandal.
The payout immediately became a subject of cross-border investigation spanning over six countries. Several Nigerian government officials were believed to have received several millions of dollars in bribes for the enabling roles they played.
A larger trial including Shell, Eni and 13 other defendants is ongoing in Italy.
Those on trial include Eni’s current CEO, Claudio Descalzi; former CEO Paolo Scaroni, and Chief Operations and Technology Officer Roberto Casula alongside four former Royal Dutch Shell staff members including Malcolm Brinded, former Executive Director for Shell’s Upstream International operations, and two former MI6 agents employed by Shell.
Since 2012 when it first denied all allegations to PREMIUM TIMES, Shell had insisted that it only paid the Nigerian government for the OPL 245 oil block and did not know Mr Etete was the recipient or that he was an ex-convict.
But in 2017, Shell admitted to The Times that it negotiated with Mr Etete who as petroleum minister in 1998 awarded the OPL 245 oil block to Malabu, a company he partly owned.
The case against Eni and Shell brought by the Milan public prosecutor alleges that $520 million from the deal was converted into cash and intended to be paid to Mr Jonathan, members of the government and other Nigerian officials.
The prosecutors further allege that part of the money was also channelled to Eni and Shell executives with $50 million in cash delivered to the home of Eni’s Roberto Casula.
“The time has come that the Italian government, as main shareholder of Eni, considers suspending all those managers involved in the case until the final judgement.”
“We hope to see the money from this deal swiftly returned to the Nigerian people.” said Nick Hildyard of Corner House who has been monitoring the trial and the OPL 245 deal.
Eni and Shell, together with their managers and other defendants have denied wrongdoing and vowed to establish their innocence in the ongoing trial.
Meanwhile Mr Abubakar, was already under investigation but prosecutors were unable to locate him to serve the necessary deeds to put him on trial until he appeared in the case as a witness via a video linkup in February 2019, Reuters report added.
According to his Italian lawyer, Mr Abubakar’s trial has been scheduled to commence May 14 before a Milan court.
Prosecutors are due to begin summing up their case beginning March 25.
In Nigeria, Mr Abubakar and a former justice minister, Mohammed Adoke, are standing trial at the Federal High Court in Abuja for money laundering.
Both men were arraigned on a seven-count charge and pleaded not guilty to the allegations.
Of the seven charges, Mr Adoke had six counts while Mr Abubakar had one count.
The two men are also standing trial alongside others at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court in Gwagwalada in Abuja for their alleged roled in the Malabu Oil scam.
According to the anti-graft agency, EFCC, Mr Abubakar in September 2013, made payments (in naira and dollars), of about N900 million into Mr Adoke’s accounts.
This is in violation of various provisions of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, the EFCC said.
Both men have denied any wrongdoing.
The two courts have granted bail to Messrs Adoke and Abubakar and both men have been released after meeting their bail conditions.