Press release / 15 Dec 2015

Court refuses to unfreeze funds from “smash and grab” raid on Nigerian oil block


Prosecutors allege that “fronts for President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria” received US$523m in proceeds of “smash and grab” OPL 245 deal.

Southwark Crown Court today rejected an attempt by a company owned by the former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete to unfreeze US$85m in proceeds of the corrupt deal for the Nigerian offshore oil block, Oil Prospecting Licence 245 (OPL 245), which was sold to Shell and Eni for $1.1bn in 2011.  

The funds were restrained at the request of Italian authorities, who are investigating the sale of the block by Malabu Oil & Gas, a company secretly owned by Mr Etete, to the international oil companies.

The Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) under Goodluck Jonthan acted as a middleman in the deal, and the court received evidence based on wiretaps that prosecutors allege show that the then President, Goodluck Jonathan, was directly involved. The deal deprived the Nigerian people of a sum equivalent to 80% of the country’s 2015 health budget.

“In light of these allegations in a UK court the role of the senior Nigerian officials involved in this deal including Goodluck Jonathan must now be fully investigated,” said Dotun Oloko, a Nigerian anti-corruption campaigner.

Evidence from US authorities presented to the court and included in the judgement “shows payments following circuitous routes which total $523m and which arrived at Abubakar Aliyu, aka ‘Mr Corruption’” […] “Aliyu’s companies are allegedly fronts for President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria”. The Crown Prosecution Service, acting at the behest of the Public Prosecutor for Milan (PPM), described OPL 245 as a case of “grand corruption”.

The OPL 245 deal is currently under investigation by the Public Prosecutor of Milan, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), and the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The EFCC have reportedly recently interviewed Abubakar Aliyu in connection with the case, and earlier this year interviewed Dan Etete.

Justice Edis of Southwark Crown Court turned down Malabu’s application to discharge the freezing order rejecting Malabu’s arguments that the Crown had failed to follow proper procedures in securing the freezing. Justice Edis concluded in his judgement:

It is extremely important that what I am about to say is not misunderstood. I am not making any findings of fact about misconduct by anyone. I am simply assessing the evidence before me to determine whether a restraint order should be discharged which was granted by way of MLA to support an investigation by the Italian authorities. That investigation is not complete (and appears to be still at quite an early stage). What misconduct it may ultimately prove, if any, will be a matter for the PPM and the Italian court if proceedings are brought. However, precisely because I cannot reach firm factual conclusions, I cannot simply assume that the FGN which was in power in 2011 and subsequently until 2015 rigorously defended the public interest of the people of Nigeria in all respects. Mr. Fisher QC who appeared for the CPS used the phrase “grand corruption” to describe the form of corruption in which the state itself is culpable. The suggestion from the wiretaps is that “Fortunato” was implicated and I am told that this was a reference in code (not subtle) to the former President of Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan. Aliyu is said to be associated with him and Aliyu received, in a way which was not transparent, $523m of the money paid for the OPL 245 licence in August 2011.

“Given the gathering pace of the EFCC investigation in Nigeria under new leadership and a call by the Nigerian House of Representatives to cancel the deal in 2014, investors in Shell and Eni should demand to know why they were exposed to such risk,“ said Simon Taylor, a Director of Global Witness.

Suspects named in the Italian case include Eni and its current and former CEOs Claudio Descalzi and Paolo Scaroni, as well the company’s Chief Development, Operations & Technology Officer Roberto Casula and former executive Vicenzo Armanna. Other suspects in the Italian case include Dan Etete and middlemen Emeka Obi, Gianluca Di Nardo and Luigi Bisignani. Shell and Eni have denied any wrongdoing.

“It is clear from evidence in the public domain that high level executives in Shell personally took part in negotiating this deal. Citizens in the UK, US, Netherlands and Nigeria should demand that Shell and its executives are investigated in their respective countries,” said Nicholas Hildyard of The Corner House.

Shell and Eni have invested at least $1.8bn in purchasing and developing the block, which they own 50-50. It reportedly holds probable reserves of 9.23 billion barrels of oil, which if proven, would represent the equivalent of a third of Shell’s proven reserves, and two thirds of Eni’s.

Antonio Tricarico of Re:Common said: “$85 million paid by Eni and Shell for the benefit of Dan Etete’s company Malabu remains frozen in London. The time has come that Eni and Shell come clean about what they knew about this deal and who else this money was intended for.”

Contact: 

Barnaby Pace, Campaigner, Global Witness, 07525 592 738

Antonio Tricarico, Re: Common (In Italy) +39.328.84 85 448

Amy Barry, Di:ga Communications, 07980 664 397

/ ENDS

Notes to editor:

· For more information about the case read the briefing by Global Witness on OPL245, Shell and Eni's Misadventures in Nigeria 

· The full written judgement is available from Global Witness

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