Exclusive: How Nigeria’s Justice Minister, Adoke, lied to U.K. group on $1.1bn Malabu fraud

Former Attorney-General, Bello Adoke

Mr. Adoke told a U.K. organisation that he had been cleared by the House of Representatives.

While the House of Representatives’ committee report into the Malabu oil bloc deal was laid only last week, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, who is amongst those central to the case, raised a letter more than two months ago to a UK based watchdog, claiming he had been exonerated.

Lawmakers have accused Mr. Adoke of “lying” and disparaging the integrity of the House over a report they have yet to consider; and on Tuesday, summoned the minister for explanations in a new twist to the huge fraud in excess of N170 billion.

“How can a minister lie to the whole world? If you as a minister could lie outside and that is later found out, what impression will that leave on us as a nation? And you say you are fighting corruption,” said Samson Osagie, who raised the matter before the House on Tuesday.

Details of the minister’s letter to U.K.-based Global Witness, obtained exclusively by PREMIUM TIMES, show how the minister labored to convince the group of Nigerian officials’ innocence in the scandal; and how he rebuffed calls for further inquiry into the matter.

Mr. Adoke maintained in the letter that the role of the federal government in the scandal – which involves what officials call multibillion naira fraud by a former minister on a lucrative government oil bloc – was strictly as an “obligor”, in this case an intermediary that only mediated to settle a long drawn case capable of hurting the government’s interest.

The controversial bloc, OPL 245, estimated to hold over seven billion barrels of oil, was assigned by former petroleum minister, Dan Etete, in 1998 to Malabu, a company lengthy investigations by PREMIUM TIMES have shown to be partly his, although he has repeatedly denied ownership.

After the Obasanjo administration revoked the deal and awarded same to Shell, sparking a lengthy ownership tussle with Malabu, both sides eventually settled in 2011 with the title fully transferred to Shell and Eni, while the two companies agreed to pay $1.1 billion to Malabu.

The money was paid into the federal government account but was immediately transferred into accounts held by Mr. Etete on the orders of Mr. Adoke and Yerima Ngama, the minister of state for finance.

Global Witness, the U.K. group has followed the case for months, including the House’s inquiry into the matter in 2012; and from the letter, the group first reached Finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, apparently seeking action against officials of her ministry.

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala communicated that concern to Mr. Adoke, who, in turn reached the group on May 20, dismissing their concerns and insisting emphatically that no Nigerian law was breached in the fraudulent deal.

I got approval

“The transaction was completely transparent and received the approval of relevant authorities and persons,” Mr. Adoke wrote.

Then he ruled: “While I thank you for the concern shown in respect of the transaction, I wish to state that since the OPL 245 Resolution Agreement did not breach the constitution or any extant law and was approved by all relevant authorities and persons, I am therefore unable to justify the call for investigation of the officials of the Ministry of Finance or indeed any other person or authority.”

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Lawmakers who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday rejected that claim. They said the report, which is scheduled for discussion after the ongoing constitution amendment, never absolved all government officials as Mr. Adoke claimed.

Mr. Adoke repeatedly stated that he got the approval of ‘relevant authorities and persons’ in the letter to the U.K. group, to authorise the payment to the fraudulent company under shady circumstances. As Justice Minister, Mr. Adoke reports only to President Goodluck Jonathan and gets permission for his actions from the president.

While the presidency has kept what could be described as criminal silence on the Malabu fraud, PREMIUM TIMES earlier investigations had revealed how at least one person with indirect links to the president got the largest chunk of the government largesse.

Abubaka Aliyu, a man described by anti-corruption officials as Mr. Corruption, received over half of the $1.1 billion directly from Mr. Etete. Mr. Aliyu is a very close business associate of fugitive Diepreiye Alamieyeseigha, a man for whom President Goodluck Jonathan ignored Nigerians and foreign partners to controversially grant presidential pardon.

Mr. Alamieyeseigha, who is wanted after jumping bail in the U.K., is the benefactor of the president having chosen the president as his deputy governor in 1999. Mr. Jonathan later rose through the political ranks to become president and both men have remained very close since then.

Perhaps worse than Mr. Adoke’s continuous mention of getting ‘approval’ is the barefaced lie Nigeria’s number one lawmaker told the U.K. group.

The lie

The Justice Minister drew the attention of the U.K. organization to the investigation into the matter by the House.

“You may wish to note that the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had instituted a probe into the transaction and at the end, they were satisfied that there was no infraction of the constitution or any other Nigerian law,” he wrote.

The House of Reps has not concluded its investigations and has expressed no satisfaction with Mr. Adoke or the federal government’s role in the Malabu fraud. A report by a committee that investigated the crisis is yet to be debated or adopted on the floor of the House.

The House’s reaction to summon Mr. Adoke’s on Tuesday was based on that claim. Lawmakers called it a “falsehood” and an “outright lie” since the recommendations of the report had not been adopted yet.

For the legislators, the minister’s patently hasty claim was even more troubling since the same Attorney General is reputed for disparaging and rebuffing past resolutions or recommendations of the House. “So why is he so quick at citing this particular case,” Mr. Osagie asked.

Lawmakers involved in the investigations told PREMIUM TIMES that the minister could only have been encouraged to tell a blatant lie to a foreign organisation, based on his thinking that he ‘has settled,” the leadership of the House investigation committee.

PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the minister and the presidency applied pressure on the lawmakers not to indict government officials involved in the shady transaction and squarely put the blame on the foreign companies, Shell and ENi, that bought the oil bloc. Some members of the committee that investigated the fraud have also claimed that the final report, which is yet to be debated by the House, was watered down, despite the seemingly mild indictment of Mr. Adoke and the federal government.

Adoke responds

On Wednesday, Mr. Adoke fired a brash response to the lawmakers, repeating his claims of innocence, and subtly accusing the lawmakers of compromising their positions to write the report that seeks to indict him.

“The outrage against the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation is understandable when viewed against his refusal to compromise his office in order to satisfy the demands of certain interests and individuals,” the minister’s spokesman, Ambrose Momoh, said.

“We know those who have compromised their positions in order to author the alleged ‘Report’ and their theatrical display for public gallery. We also know those secretly beating the drums for masquerades dancing in the market square. We shall confront them at the appropriate forum.”

He wondered “why the ownership of shares in a private company would generate sufficient interest among members of the legislature so as to merit a resolution of a Committee that certain persons or companies are entitled to ownership of shares in a private company, when the Courts are the appropriate venue for the ventilation of such disputes between shareholders (if any).”

Even so, the minister contradicted himself in his own words, between the claims he made in the letter to the U.K. group, and the statement he released Wednesday through Mr. Momoh.

In the letter, Mr. Adoke said the House committee was satisfied that the deal did not breach “the constitution or any extant law” in Nigeria-a generalization that sought to provide cover for all officials and offices.

But in his statement Wednesday, having been challenged by the House, the minister said he meant that the committee was satisfied with his explanation regarding his personal role.

Serial liar

The letter to the U.K. group would not be the first lie Mr. Adoke would tell to legitimise his and the federal government’s action in the Malabu fraud.

About a year before the May 20 letter, the minister had, in his first official reaction to the Malabu fraud, told Nigerians that the federal government acted right in the deal.

“To resolve all the contending claims in a satisfactory and holistic manner,” the AGF stated in the May, 2012 press statement, “due regard was given to … the underlying policy of encouraging the participation (of) indigenous oil and gas companies in the upstream sector of the oil industry.”

The oil bloc, OPL 245 has now been sold, 100 per cent, to two foreign companies, albeit their Nigerian subsidiaries, ensuing that, contrary to Mr. Adoke’s claims, there is no indigenous participation.

“How did Malabu ‘participate’ or guarantee ‘effective development of indigenous capability’ order than the fact that it, with the help of the FG, swindled Nigeria of at least a billion dollars by eventually passing the bloc to a foreign concern already entrenched in the nation’s oil and gas industry,” an oil industry source, knowledgeable about the transaction, had told PREMIUM TIMES.

Few months later, Mr. Adoke also stated in the 13th paragraph of his statement to the House committee that “At all times material to the resolution of the dispute, the federal government was not aware of any subsisting third party interest in Malabu’s claim to OPL 245 and neither did any person or company apply to be joined in the negotiations as an interested party.”

A statement that turned out to be false as evidence earlier provided by PREMIUM TIMES showed that not only was he and the federal government directly knowledgeable of ‘subsisting third party interest,’ agencies on whose board he sits, such as the Corporate Affairs Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, had already flagged Malabu and Mr. Etete for fraudulent activities over OPL 245 long before the federal government approved the transfer of tens of billions of naira to the company.

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