Italian authorities have indicated their intention to file criminal charges against a former Nigerian Minister of Petroleum, Chief Dan Etete, for his involvement in the $1.1 billion Malabu oil deal.
The prosecutors filed the notice in a Milan court last week. This is coming about a week after he was charged by the Nigerian anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Abuja for the same offences.
It would be recalled that the EFCC slammed a seven-count charge of money laundering and fraud on Etete and others on the 20th December at the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.
Others charged alongside Etete, is another Nigerian simply identified as Chukwuemeka Obi, who is also among the 11 individuals to be charged by the Italian authorities. Shell and Eni are also two corporate persons to be sued, indicating a total of 13 defendants.
Obi and his firm, EVP, had laid claim to about $110 million of the $1.1 billion paid by shell and Eni for OPL 245, considered Nigeria’s richest oil block.
The money is currently trapped in Switzerland where it has been frozen by a court order.
Obi sued Malabu for the $110 million in London which he said was his entitlement for helping to facilitate the deal between the oil majors and Malabu.
In July 2013, the high court of justice, queen’s bench division presided by lady justice Gloster ruled in favour of Obi that he was entitled to “a fee of 8.5% of the total disposal consideration of $1.3 billion.”
Following the court’s ruling, the money was transferred to EVP’s Swiss accounts. However, Italian authorities who had by then started investigating the fraudulent deal asked Swiss authorities to freeze the money where it has since remained.
Others found culpable by Italian authorities include: Descajzi Claudio, the CEO of Eni; his predecessor, Paolo Scaroni; Roberto Casula, Armanna Vincenzo, Antonio Pagano, Ednan Agaev, Luigi Bisignani and Falcioni Gianfranco. Italian prosecutors are also charging Eni and royal Dutch shell for their involvement in the deal as multinational firms.
As part of their findings, Italian prosecutors said officials of Italian oil giant, Eni, may have received $50 million bribe from the $1.1 billion the company and Shell paid into a Nigerian government account in 2011.
The money was to allow the oil firms have control of OPL 245, Nigeria’s richest oil block estimated to contain over 9 billion barrels of crude oil.
The Italian prosecutors have now concluded their investigations into the roles of shell and Eni in the OPL 245 controversial scandal and are set to commence prosecution.
The investigators said €50 million cash was delivered to the Abuja home of Casula, who was then the head of Eni’s business operations in Sub-Saharan Africa. The money was supposedly meant for “administrators and Eni executives.”
The investigations also revealed that contrary to claims by Shell and Eni, officials of the Italian firm negotiated with Etete and definitely knew the money they were paying to the Nigerian government would end up in Malabu’s accounts controlled by him.
The Italian prosecutors have been coordinating and cooperating with their Nigerian counterparts. Fabio de Pasquale and other Italian prosecutors have been guests of their Nigerian counterparts several times in the past year.
Also, to ensure seamless prosecution of the indicted officials both in Nigeria and Italy, the two countries recently signed a mutual legal assistance treaty.
The EFCC on Tuesday, filed a nine-count corruption and money laundering charge against Etete, former Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke and controversial businessman, Abubakar Aliyu, for their roles in the scam.
Adoke it was, who authorised the transfer of $801 million of the money paid by Shell and Eni to Malabu’s accounts controlled by Etete despite having prior knowledge of the latter’s previous criminalities including manipulation of company registration documents of Malabu.
The former attorney general has however denied any wrongdoing and has pledged to return to Nigeria to face charges.
Etete, who was once convicted for money laundering in France, subsequently transferred over $450 million of the money he received into the accounts of fictitious companies controlled by Aliyu who investigators believe was a front for interested parties and top officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, including Adoke. Those four companies were also charged by the EFCC last week.
Etete would later tell a British court that only $250 million of the money truly belonged to him. The €50 million cash the Italian, Casula, received in Abuja is believed to be part of the money transferred to Aliyu by Etete.
In his reaction to the charges filed by the EFCC, Simon Taylor, director of UK-based global witness, said, “we applaud the Nigerian authorities for fighting back against corruption without fear or favour, making sure there are real consequences for taking part in shady deals like with OPL 245.”
“This is a great step forward with the Nigerian authorities showing they are serious about tackling corruption. European and American law enforcement must also step up by fully cooperating and prosecuting anyone else culpable in this corrupt deal,” another transparency campaigner, Nicholas Hildyard of corner house, said.
In reaction to the conclusion of investigations by the Italians, Barnaby Pace, a campaigner at global witness, a UK firm dedicated to transparency in the extractive sector, commended the investigations.
“Shady deals allow corrupt elites to profit at the expense of ordinary citizens. Shell and Eni now have to answer to the Italian courts, the public and their shareholders for their part in the corrupt deal for OPL 245 – oil companies can’t get away with this kind of behaviour any longer,” he said.
The Nigerian parliament is also conducting a new round of inquiry into the controversies surrounding the OPL 245 since its lease was first awarded in 1998.
The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) had told lawmaker of the House of Representatives committee investigating the matter that due process was not followed in the award of the block and that it was awarded to Malabu only on the directive of then head of state, General Sani Abacha.