Details have emerged of how a Nigerian businessman and principal suspect in the Malabu OPL 245 scandal, Abubakar Aliyu, allegedly withdrew N24 billion ($60,593,000) in cash.
According to the transcript of a Milan court hearing held in 2018, but obtained recently by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Abubakar, an ally of controversial former petroleum minister, Dan Etete, made the huge cash withdrawal from funds passed to him by Mr Etete, another suspect in the criminal trial.
Prosecutors believe that that magnitude of cash withdrawal does not have much precedence, raising suspicion that portions of the fund were used to bribe some officials of the Goodluck Jonathan government.
Mr Aliyu has, however, denied any wrongdoing, saying he did not distribute bribes to anyone.
According to prosecutors, as soon as Malabu Oil and Gas received $801million of its $1.1billion from Shell and Eni (through the Nigerian government), Mr Etete transferred half the funds to Nigerian companies controlled by or associated with Mr Aliyu in a scheme anti-graft agencies consider suspicious.
Some of the companies which received the funds through bank accounts in Nigeria are A-Group Construction, Megatech Engineering, Novel Property and Development Limited and Imperial Union Limited.
“The accounts,” prosecutors alleged while interrogating a witness during the Milan hearing, “are aligned to Rocky Top (Resources Limited) level in the scheme. I would ask you a few questions, but it seems to me you were saying at the beginning that the signing powers on these accounts had Alhaji Aliyu Abubakar.”
The witness, one Ferri Alesandro, replied: “Yes, exactly.” For emphasis, the prosecutor asked yet again: “So these are movements arranged by Alhaji Aliyu Abubakar?” The witness replied in the affirmative.
“So, some details, let’s start looking at the outputs from AE Group,” the prosecutor continued. “There is an annotation $ 60,593,000, Aliyu Abubaker cash withdrawal. I believe there are not many precedents for cash withdrawals of this size. There question is: is it a single withdrawal or multiple withdrawals?
The witness, Mr Alessandro, replied: “As can be seen from sheet 142, from the documentation … and from card and the documentation below, are more withdrawals of the amount, some also of $5 million.”
The witness then went ahead to explain that the sum of $5 million withdrawal was also made simultaneously “in a single solution”.
“Because if you go to see the documentation that is attached to the sheet 142 there are lists where the abbreviation of Abubakar Aliyu appears,” the witness continued, apparently reading from the banking records of Mr Aliyu and those of his companies.
“As I said on the basis of the opening accounts, he was the only one who had access to those figures, for which there are receipts, I do not know how … signed by him, with the indication of the withdrawal, the indication of the number and its abbreviation, which is similar, equal to the one deposited in the moment… at the bank when they opened the account.”
The prosecutors did not name the Nigerian banks from which Mr Aliyu made the withdrawals.
The withdrawal of such amount of cash is a violation of Nigeria’s anti-money laundering law which forbids individuals from accepting cash payments exceeding N500,000 or its equivalent. Corporate bodies are also not allowed to make or accept cash payment exceeding N2million.
PREMIUM TIMES’ efforts to speak to Mr Aliyu were unsuccessful. When this newspaper reached out to one of his lawyers, he directed our reporter to his personal assistant who in turn directed PREMIUM TIMES to the businessman’s media consultant.
The consultant, however, could not provide comments for this story as of press time on Thursday morning.
But, in a statement he gave to the EFCC, obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Aliyu said the transactions he made were payments to companies and individuals on the directives of Mr Etete, payment for properties he sold to Mr Etete in Nigeria and Dubai and the consultancy fee he received for his role in facilitating the controversial settlement agreement between Malabu and Shell/Eni.
The Malabu Scandal
The Malabu scandal involved the 2011 payment of $1.1billion by Shell and ENI through the Nigerian government to Malabu for the takeover of a lucrative oil asset, OPL 245.
From accounts controlled by Mr Etete, about half of the $801million initially transferred to Malabu was moved into accounts of companies controlled by Mr Aliyu, 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 as officials of Shell and ENI, charges he strongly denies.
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.
In March 2017, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed charges against him, along with Mohammed Adoke, a former attorney general and Minister of Justice, and Dan Etete, a former Minister of Petroleum, for involvement in the $1.1 billion Malabu oil scandal.
They are being prosecuted alongside two international oil giants – Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Company, and ENI, as well as Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd, Rocky Top Resources Ltd, Imperial Union Ltd, Novel Properties & Dev. Co. Ltd, A Group Construction Ltd, and Megatech Engineering Ltd.
Mr Adoke has denied any wrongdoing and said the actions taken in respect of the transfer of the bloc were based on the instructions of former President Goodluck Jonathan and in the best interest of Nigeria.
Earlier in January, the EFCC arraigned Messrs Aliyu and Adoke. The charges against them include those related to money laundering and exchange of alleged N300 million bribe.
In February, Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court in Abuja granted bail to the two men on the same terms and conditions earlier granted by Justice Idris Kutigi of the FCT High Court in Gwagwalada.
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